18 October 2002

The silent microwave drill adds new twist to DIY

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

The tell-tale noise of the DIY enthusiast at work - the whine of the electric drill - may soon be a thing of the past.

A silent, steady and dust-free way to drill holes in walls without annoying the neighbours has been developed. It could also replace the dreaded dentist's drill.

The drill's key component comes from a domestic microwave oven and it works by focusing microwave radiation at a spot just beneath the surface of any hard material.

As the temperature increases, the surrounding material's ability to absorb the radiation increases, kicking off a runaway reaction so that a molten hotspot evolves.

The drill tip is pushed into the softened material to form a hole. The hot spot then goes deeper into the material and the drilling process continues.

Details of the drill are revealed today by Dr Vladimir Dikhtyar and Prof Eli Jerby of Tel Aviv University in the journal Science. Prof Jerby has patented the invention.

Although the drill gives out fewer microwaves than a domestic oven, safety is a major concern and Prof Jerby thinks it will be some time before it is adopted by dentists - probably three to five years. Possible medical uses include inserting pins into bones.