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Scientists make 'sonic screwdriver'

22:34 Thu Apr 19 2012

A team of scientists has taken inspiration from Doctor Who and created their own "sonic screwdriver" that could be used in complex surgeries.

Physicists at the University of Dundee used equipment designed for MRI-guided ultrasound surgery and created a tool that can lift and spin a 10cm rubber disk with an ultrasound beam.

The team said the beam carries momentum that can push an object in its path and can cause the object to rotate when shaped like a helix or vortex.

Mike MacDonald, of the university's Institute for Medical Science and Technology, said: "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 non-invasive ultrasound surgery, targeted drug delivery and ultrasonic manipulation of cells.

"The 'sonic screwdriver' device is also part of the EU-funded Nanoporation project where we are already starting to push the boundaries of what ultrasound can do in terms of targeted drug delivery and targeted cellular surgery.

"It is an area that has great potential for developing new surgical techniques, among other applications, something which Dundee is very much at the forefront of."

Doctor Who uses his screwdriver to open locks and doors and control other devices, but the Dundee team believes its study could help make surgery using ultrasound techniques more precise and effective by giving doctors the ability to steer ultrasound waves to the precise spot where they are needed.

Ultrasound waves allow surgeons to treat a range of conditions without having to cut a patient open.

Dr MacDonald added: "Like Doctor Who's own device, our sonic screwdriver is capable of much more than just spinning things around."

The results of the research are published in the American Physical Society's journal Physical Review Letters.

Last year, scientists in Bristol began working on their own "sonic screwdriver" to be used in DIY.

The team experimented with rotating ultrasonic force fields which acted like the head of a screwdriver.

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