Scientists invent real “Doctor Who sonic screwdriver”

The new ultrasound technology could help real doctors treat patients more effectively

Researchers at Dundee University claim to have invented a real-life Doctor Who-style sonic screwdriver.


The prototype machine has successfully used ultrasound waves to lift and rotate a rubber disc floating in a cylinder of water – the first time ultrasound has been made to turn objects rather than simply push them – but physicists performing the research believe it can achieve a lot more.

“Like Doctor Who’s own device, our sonic screwdriver is capable of much more than just spinning things around,” said Dr Mike MacDonald of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology at Dundee.

Surgeons already use ultrasound to treat patients without the need for surgery, but the ability to steer objects such as drug capsules to precise locations could make the technique even more effective.

“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,” said Dr MacDonald.

Although younger viewers will be more familiar with Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver as a tool for unlocking doors and repairing electronic equipment, episodes from the classic series have seen it used as a medical scanner.

Visit our dedicated Doctor Who section for all the latest news, views, photos and video