Aijaz Ahmed, principal technology architect at Infosys PRIME Services group, is serving as a contributing writer for Rajiv Sabharwal's blog.

The Nobel Prize in physics for 2010 was awarded jointly to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov "for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material Graphene.'  What is “Graphene” and why all this excitement? Graphene, first discovered two years ago, is a one-atom-thick sheet of sp2-bonded hexagonal carbon crystals (i.e., honeycomb shaped, two-dimensional material) whose strength, flexibility, practically transparent and highly suitable nature for electrical conductivity has attracted new research opportunities. By some estimates, 3 million layers of Graphene’s transparent sheets will be less than 1 mm thick, with a strength 100 times more than steel of a similar diameter.

Graphene will bring an innovative revolution among the next generation of scientist and researchers, specifically in the areas of transistors. Graphene can also be mixed with plastic, providing unprecedented opportunities to redefine the way we live and use plastic in our daily lives. It can also be used in the high-tech aircraft industry and in building simple and intelligent machines. According to a study published by Harvard and MIT researchers, Graphene can be used for DNA sequencing in a better, faster and cheaper way than any previously known to the biomedical industry.

With my health care I.T. lens, I predict Graphene will revolutionize and transform the entire health care industry. From bio-devices to anti-bacterial solutions, to light-weight artificial limbs and highly integrated circuits, to very flexible, very thin and lightweight Graphene-based super fast liquid crystal displays (LCDs), to new ways of monitoring and collecting patient’s personal health records data, Graphene will be the game changer. Researchers are already working on a very thin transparent membrane that has miniature electromechanical switches, which could be useful for electron microscopy to study individual molecules.

One exciting possibility is the ability to create nano-level electronic transistors. Current silicon-based transistor and semiconductor technology is at its best for computing speed and capacity and cannot be miniaturized much further. Graphene will define a new era for the semiconductor, computing and nanotechnology industries.

One of the biggest concerns with the silicon-based CPUs is the limitations of miniaturization being reached and hence the predictions of Moore’s Law (the number of transistors on a microchip will increase exponentially, typically doubling every two years) coming to a screeching halt.  However, this discovery has proved Moore’s Law continues to be on the right track. But as one can imagine, if we can create nano-sized electronic transistors, then our computing power quadruples in the coming years, thus unleashing the sky on the computing limits. 

We could soon be enjoying nearly incredible benefits and products (as Raymond Kurzweil predicts in his book, The Age of Intelligent Machines). However, the downside of this technology could be its devastation on today’s health data privacy standards. When it comes to patient’s rights and data privacy, encryption is the current savior for data both in-transit and at-rest.  If we have enough computing power to break advanced encryption standards such as 256-bit keys, we’d have to look at HIPAA and other regulations and rethink and retool data privacy.

While it is still too early to specifically predict how Graphene will evolve in the health care industry, pundits agree understanding how to utilize Graphene--and defend against the powers it unleashes--will be the keys to success.

 

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