Genuine Sonic Screwdriver in the Works

British engineers are exploring the possibility of a real-life sonic screwdriver.

Bruce Drinkwater, professor of ultrasonics at Bristol University, doesn’t expect to make a working model particularly soon. But he’s working on at least proving the concept is possible.

The idea is to build on existing work using ultrasonic forcefields to separate out diseased cells from healthy cells. Engineers are also already experimenting with using ultrasonic waves to move small objects.

The theory is that ultrasound could be used to simulate the mechanics of a real screwdriver. A rotating forcefield could perform the function of a head, while spinning ultrasonic waves at high speed could create a tornado-like force to turn the screws.

As is often the case with physics, it seems the logic behind the system is sound (so to speak), but generating the necessary force might be more troublesome.

In the TV series, the sonic screwdriver was initially portrayed as a sound wave-based tool for opening locks, along with some other sonic-based functions such as remotely detonating landmines. In later years it became more of a multi-function device, often without a clear connection to soundwaves. This prompted some debate about the sonic screwdriver’s role as a literary rather than engineering tool.

Drinkwater hopes the Doctor Who connection will encourage young people to get more interested in science and engineering. He was talking about the sonic screwdriver experiments to promote The Big Bang, a major interactive science fair for young people in London next March, which starts the UK’s National Science & Engineering Week.

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