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"If I had to get a new Ph.D. now, I'd get it in polymer engineering - the manipulation of matter."
- Bart Kosko

Thumper  
  A short stake with a spring-driven clapper at one end; used to call sandworms.  

This very puzzling item is introduced early in the story; it is not until mid-way through that the reader discovers the incredible purpose of this device. The rhythmic vibration produced when a thumper is placed in the sand calls one of the enormous sandworms of Dune.

This was a good dune Stilgar had chosen, higher than its companions for the viewpoint advantage. Stooping, Paul planted the thumper deep into the windward face where the sand was compacted and would give maximum transmission to the drumming. When he threw the latch, the thumper would begin its summons. Across the sand, a giant worm would hear and come to the drumming.
From Dune, by Frank Herbert.
Published by Putnam in 1965
Additional resources -

Why would the Fremen want to call this fearsome creature, from which all others on the planet fled? Read the book for the astonishing answer.

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