Bioengineering graduate tackles sunburn

27 September 2017
Ming Cheuk
Ming Cheuk

Ming Cheuk, who graduates from the University of Auckland next week with a PhD in Bioengineering, is one of the brains behind an app being used worldwide to help people understand their risk of sunburn.

UVLens® is a personalised sun safety app available for free download worldwide on iOS and Android.

“It starts by asking questions to help users determine their skin type,” says 26-year-old Ming, who grew up in Henderson, Auckland.

Along with a forecast of the ultraviolet levels at your location, UVLens® reports how long it could take you to get sunburnt and suggests appropriate sun protection such as a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. 

“We really focused on building a clear and easy to use interface so it’s a great tool for educating children and adults alike about the risks of UV radiation,” says Ming.

Since its launch last year, UVLens® has been featured on the Apple App Store homepage which gathered 50 million impressions in five days. Since then it has appeared on television talk shows Today (USA) and Galileo (Germany) and in New York Times, Mashable and Gizmodo, UK..

The world-leading app grew out of successful research into a wearable sensor to measure UV risk called UVSense, which won Ming and fellow student Daniel Xu, the 2013 New Zealand Microsoft Imagine Cup national finals – a competition for new technologies that help solve some of the world’s toughest problems. 

“We saw that sunburn and skin cancer were major issues in New Zealand but there were no new technologies to help solve these problems,” says Ming, who was then in the first year of his PhD.

After competing in the Imagine Cup world finals in St Petersburg, Ming returned to New Zealand determined to be involved in cutting edge research and innovation that would lead to developing a start-up company.

In the years since, he has studied for his PhD in Bio-instrumentation at Auckland Bioengineering Institute and at the same time co-founded, with Daniel Xu, technology company Spark 64 Ltd developing UVLens®. 

UVLens® initially focused on education, providing digital information and tools to teach people about UV and sun safety. In a partnership with Banana Boat sunscreen, over 100 UV sensors were installed around the country to protect preschool children from the sun.

Now the company has partnered with medical insurer Southern Cross to deliver UV reports and sun safety tips direct to their customers. Spark 64 Ltd is also exploring other technologies including chatbots.

For Ming, Chief Technology Officer of the company, his job is a dream come true. His parents both independently moved to New Zealand from China several years before he was born and he is the first in his family to graduate from university. His younger brother is currently in his second year at medical school at the University of Auckland.