'Fake skin' computer touchscreen may aid cancer diagnoses

Forget glass screens, Canberran Jess Tsimeris is building soft computer touch surfaces which can be squeezed and squashed.

And her research may help doctors learn how to identify cancer.

The Australian National University PhD student is using latex and electromagnetic forces to simulate human skin and is talking to doctors about developing a training tool for cancer diagnosis.

Her studies are in human computer interaction and she was recently made a finalist for Google's Anita Borg Memorial scholarship for women in computer science.

Ms Tsimeris said she was focussing on how to make touch surfaces more interesting, moving away from familiar glass screens towards something more soft and moveable.

"It's 2013, we're living in the future, we should have something a bit better than the flat touch surfaces that we've had in the past," she said.


Ms Tsimeris, of Bruce, is working with electromagnetic forces, using magnets to raise and lower soft latex surfaces.

She has created soft touch surface with lumps that can be moved around and made firmer, or less firm.

Ms Tsimeris said she had been consulting with doctors, massage therapists and other professionals who deal with skin to make sure the simulation is accurate.

"It's a process where you talk to them, you try to implement what it should feel like, get them to try it, get their feed back again, fix it up, we're doing that at the moment," she said.

Supervisor Tom Gedeon said research in the field could also lead to more secure key pads at ATMS, using a squishy surface where a user was identified by how hard they pushed.

"One of the nice things about working with something so novel is that we will not necessarily think of the really good uses," he said.

"When you produce something, sometimes someone will come up with an even better idea for how it could be used," Professor Gedeon said.

A recent governement study showed women were significantly under represented in the majority of information and communications technology professions, and Ms Tsimeris said despite an interest in computers and computer games, she never considered a career in computer science as a teenager growing up in Adelaide.

She started an undergraduate degree in architecture, but then decided to pursue what she loved, information technology.