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Real-life twist for sonic screwdriver


Fans of the British television series Dr. Who have long wished for a sonic screwdriver of their own. Scientists at Bristol University are working to make their wishes come true.

Add the sonic screwdriver wielded by TV's favorite Time Lord in Britain's hit sci-fi series "Doctor Who" to the list of seemingly far-fetched gadgets and technologies wending their way to gift boxes in the real world.

The sonic screwdriver on the little screen is truly a remarkable device -- helping the Doctor do everything from opening doors to detecting land mines and controlling the space-and-time-traveling vehicle called TARDIS.

The device under development by engineers at Bristol University is more mundane than the fictional sonic screwdriver, but it's still impressive. It uses ultrasonic waves, which are beyond the scope of human hearing, to apply forces to objects.

Bristol University says the ultrasonic-wave generator is already being tested as a manufacturing tool to put parts together and, in the medical field, to separate diseased cells from healthy cells. The engineers are now figuring out how to spin the ultrasonic waves to create a twisting force similar to a tornado, which they say could be used to undo screws. Rotating ultrasonic fields could also act like the head of a real screwdriver.

"However far-fetched the Time Lord's encounters may seem, there are engineers and scientists out there who are using their skills to bring the magic to life," Professor Bruce Drinkwater, who is developing the technology, said in a news release.

Drinkwater is teaming up with a British science and engineering celebration called The Big Bang to use the buzz over the device to inspire young minds. The event is due to take place in London from March 10 to 12.

The screwdriver joins a host of other sci-fi concepts that are inspiring real-world technologies -- including the far-fetched wizardry that gets Harry Potter and his gang out of binds, and teleportation a la Star Trek. Follow the links below to check out what's within our grasp.

More technologies inspired by fiction:

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).