The sonic screwdriver has proven an indispensable piece of equipment for Doctor Who when battling Daleks, Cybermen and the Master. The fictional tool is capable of opening just about any lock known to man - or alien - and can fix a damaged TARDIS in a matter of seconds. Now engineers at Bristol University say a real-life version of the sci-fi screwdriver could be created that would use sonic technology to open locks and undo screws ... just don't expect to see one under the Christmas tree this year.

According to Professor of Ultrasonics at Bristol University, Bruce Drinkwater, the secret lies in ultrasonic waves that can be used to apply forces to objects. Such technology is already being trialed in modern manufacturing to fix parts together and ultrasonic force fields are being developed for use in the medical field to separate diseased cells from healthy ones.

Professor Drinkwater and a team from The Big Bang: UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair are now exploring whether super powerful versions of these sound beams can be used to create a real-life sonic screwdriver.

"Doctor Who is renowned for bending the rules of science. But technology has radically moved on since the Doc first stepped out of his TARDIS in the sixties. Whilst a fully functioning time machine may still be light years away, engineers are already experimenting with ultrasonic waves to move and manipulate small objects," said Professor Drinkwater.

The engineers are looking into how ultrasonic waves can be spun at high speed to create a twisting force similar to a miniature tornado, which could be used to undo screws remotely. They have also experimented with rotating ultrasonic force fields, which would act like the head of a real screwdriver.

While a real-world sonic screwdriver is likely some way off, Professor Drinkwater is hopeful.

"The sonic screwdriver may still be sometime in the making but ultrasonic technology is already making its mark in the medical and manufacturing arenas with some exciting results."

Until then he's happy enough to inspire the engineers, technologists and inventors of the future.

"Doctor Who's adventures have captured the imaginations of millions, young and old. And, 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."