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Wayne Westerman awarded Presidential Citation for Outstanding Achievement

Wayne Westerman, who received his doctoral degree in electrical engineering from UD in 1999, developed the revolutionary computer interface technology, based on human touch, that is used in Apple's iPhone.

“I still remember the excitement of the day when John Elias [UD professor of electrical and computer engineering] and I began brainstorming our future,” said Westerman, remembering his first few weeks as a student at UD, after being introduced by Gonzalo R. Arce, chairperson of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“We were working together from the start,” said Westerman, who teamed with Elias to develop the computer “touchstream” keyboard technology, which is operated by gesturing or moving fingers across a touch- and motion-sensitive surface. “It has been a great and shaping relationship.”

Westerman talked about the role serendipity played in the invention, from his stubborn bout with tendonitis, which hobbled his progress until he devised the touch-sensitive technology, to his experience as a pianist, in which his interaction with the keyboard was graceful and natural.

“I had an ergonomic problem and I paired it with a motivation,” Westerman said of the early inspiration. “I'd always felt that playing the piano was so much more graceful and expressive than using a computer keyboard, and I thought how great it would be if I pulled some of that expression from the piano to the computer experience.”

Currently a senior engineer at Apple Inc., Westerman began his research at UD, where he started the touch screen project as his doctoral thesis. The technology was at the heart of the foundation of Fingerworks, a company Westerman started in 1998, along with Elias.

In 2005, Apple Inc. purchased Fingerworks, and in July 2007, an 80-page patent filing, partially credited to Westerman, hinted at the next-generation touch screen technology. Three years ago, in 2005, Westerman established a scholarship fund at UD, in honor of his father, to be used to support electrical and computer engineering students who demonstrate invention, innovation and entrepreneurial vision.

Article by Becca Hutchinson

Photo by Kathy Atkinson

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