Scottish scientists take a page from sci-fi with sonic screwdriver

In the BBC series "Doctor Who", the titular character wields a sonic screwdriver that helps him crack locks, control devices and track alien life (it's a science-fiction show, after all). However, thanks to scientists at the University of Dundee in Scotland, the device is now a reality, and researchers say it could have applications in drug delivery and noninvasive surgery.

The physicists used a targeted ultrasound beam to lift and spin a 90-gram, 10-centimeter rubber disk. By shaping the beam like a helix, the researchers were able to rotate the disk using only the energy of an ultrasound array. The vortex-shaped beam allows for angular momentum and the application of torque to an object without actually touching it. Thus, the sonic screwdriver, which you can see in action on YouTube.

Dundee's Mike MacDonald said in a release that the development has clear medical applications. "This experiment not only confirms a fundamental physics theory but also demonstrates a new level of control over ultrasound beams which can also be applied to noninvasive ultrasound surgery, targeted drug delivery and ultrasonic manipulation of cells," he stated.

The experiment, chronicled in the latest issue of the journal Physical Review Letters, could be a pathway to focused cellular manipulation, without cutting open a patient, and targeted drug delivery using the ultrasound beams to get treatments into otherwise unreachable areas.

- here's the Dundee release
- get more from Australia's SBS