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Scientists Demonstrate Sonic Screwdriver Effect
Posted In: Technology Articles  4/21/12
By: Chris Capps

Scientists have demonstrated for the first time that sound waves can be produced that not only push objects, but can actually rotate them.  The principle behind a device for rotating objects through a barrier has been demonstrated for the first time.  Very similar is the fictional "sonic screwdriver" of Doctor Who fame.

The original sonic screwdriver, developed by writer Victor Pemberton in the 1968 story "Terror from the Deep" written for the Doctor Who series was a device that could rotate objects simply by pointing it at them using the power of sound.  The device has since become a staple of the science fiction franchise and has featured prominently in several episodes of the most recent series.

And now it seems a similar device could one day be developed.  The current version, which stands on a desk and uses sound to rotate a disc suspended in water is simple enough.  Using pulses of ultrasound far too fine to be heard by the human ear, the device successfully rotated a disc hanging suspended within the water.  After a few rotations, the scientists at Dundee University began wondering if more could be done with a similar device using ultrasound.  And while it may not be quite as dramatic as the device used in the Doctor Who franchise, it could still be a useful tool to those in the medical profession.

Already ultrasound is used for a number of medical procedures.  Most famously, technicians use it to examine pregnancies to check for complications and allow an early look into the development process.  But the real medical applications of the technology haven't ended there.  Sound has similarly been used in high frequency to treat cancer, break apart kidney stones, and even to regenerate teeth and bones.  The ability to use sound to manipulate objects in three dimensions means it could one day be used to assist with surgeries in a more dramatic capacity.

The use of an ultrasonic frequency in engineering may be helpful as well, although the amount of torque involved in twisting a screwdriver in most stubborn screws is far more than could be reliably produced using sound - at least for now.  Who knows what developments could come about in the future for sonic tools?

Science fiction and technology have always had an interesting relationship with the two often mimicking one another in their speculative ventures.  Previous devices based at least partially on science fiction ideas have included anthropomorphic robots, lasers, radio guided planes, ion based propulsion, and even the Internet.  Conversely, each new development made by real life scientists and gurus brings with it a new generation of fresh technological gadgets ready to be expanded upon by Hollywood.  So if a real world sonic screwdriver is developed, what will science fiction think up next?  Only a time traveler could tell.


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