Guest essay: Science: A special way of knowing

ScienceThrillers.com welcomes teacher and writer A.G. Moore, a principal of Rhythm Prism Publishing (“Unique Books for Hungry Minds”). Moore shares an essay on the origins of scientific thought. Please check out her nonfiction books for ages 8-13 (below) and enter to win one of 2 sets!

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Science: A Special Way of Knowing
Guest post by A.G. Moore

People have been staring into the night sky for thousands of years. Some accept what they see, close their eyes and go to sleep. Some wonder at the mystery of the night. They question how the stars came to be.

It was in such a moment that science, and religion, were born. A yearning grew to explain what was observed. Religious beliefs arose, and multiplied. However, religion was not sufficient for some.

In the eleventh century, an Islamic polymath named Alhazen laid down the basic principles of what would come to be known as the scientific method. It was a system that demanded objectivity and proof. Alhazen wrote that a scientist should “…make himself an enemy of all he reads, and … attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency. 

Interestingly, as Alhazen advocated for evidence-based inquiry, he became a critic of belief in religious orthodoxy. Years after his death, many of Alhazen’s writings were translated into Latin. His principles of proof influenced centuries of European scientists. Some of Alhazen’s most significant research was in the field of optics. This work laid the foundation for the invention of the telescope, hundreds of years later.

As with so many advances in science, the telescope was devised in the midst of a flurry of activity. Several inventors offered designs, but in 1608, Hans Lippershey of the Netherlands was officially credited with submitting the first. Soon a scientist in Italy, Galileo Galilei, heard of this invention, and improved upon it.

With the Lippershey/Galileo rudimentary telescope, night-gazers could behold the heavens and see what early observers had never dreamed. Galileo’s observation of the skies led him to a startling conclusion: the earth was not the center of the universe. This suggestion put him in direct conflict with religious authorities of the time. He was imprisoned and threatened with death. Galileo denied the proof of his telescope and bowed to belief. He withdrew his dangerous views, and lived.

However, Galileo’s concession to religion did not end the quest for understanding. Science was restless. Questions, though silenced, would not go away. In time, the rational approach to knowledge gained adherents. One scientist after another claimed to explain a mystery of nature. Boldly, confidently, these investigators entered the twentieth century. Then, through the actions of one obscure physicist, upheaval struck at the heart of certainty.

Using the tools of proof, creativity and insight, Albert Einstein proposed, in 1905, that the rules of the universe, accepted since Newton, were not valid. Shaken, many scientists rejected Einstein’s new Theory of Relativity. They wanted more proof than his equations offered. That proof came in 1919, with the direct observation of a solar eclipse. Scientists saw in this spectacular display of nature that light behaved as Einstein had predicted and not as Newton’s laws dictated.

Since the 1919 eclipse, scientists, and ordinary people, have gazed into the night sky with a perplexed wonder, not unlike that of their earliest ancestors. How did the universe begin? Will it expand forever, or will it collapse upon itself? Will the earth one day be swallowed up by a black hole?

Science remains restless. As the construction of ever more powerful telescopes allows astronomers to view farther into the night sky, questions abound. Religion, however, remains essentially confident. It does not require proof, but merely belief, a willingness to take a leap of faith.

Science is a sterner taskmaster. It will not be settled, unless its answers are supported by proof, by using the objective principles laid down by Alhazen.

Somewhere, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, a scientist will come along, perhaps another Alhazen or an Einstein, who will answer the questions that puzzle us. Perhaps that future scientist will read these very words and be inspired. Wouldn’t that be something?

If you liked this blog, check out A.G. Moore’s books for students: Jonas Salk, Marie Curie, Marie Curie Radium Polonium with Study GuideFlorence Nightingale and What is Radioactivity? Available from Rhythm Prism on Amazon, iBook and Nook.

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Book review: LAB GIRL by Hope Jahren

ScienceThrillers.com book review of Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

 

Publication date: April 2016
Category: Science memoir

Summary (from the publisher):

An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world

Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.

Lab Girl
is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s remarkable stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.

Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.

ScienceThrillers review:

Lab Girl had a well-financed launch by the publisher (loads of “buzz”), and as soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to read it. The scientist-author of this memoir, Hope Jahren, is a woman about my age, who also grew up in rural southern Minnesota. I was eager to read her story about a life in science.

What did I think of Lab Girl?

I think it’s two different books inside a single cover. One of the books was mind-blowingly beautiful. The other, not so much.

What makes this book definitely worth reading are the chapters that are essentially free-standing essays about plant science. As others reviewers have noted, read these and you will never look at trees the same way again. Jahren’s appreciation of the plant world is as rich and deep as Minnesota soil. She will bring you into a tree’s point of view, create drama in a tree’s slowly unfolding life story, show you the complexity you cannot see with your eyes. I absolutely savored each one of these literate, scientific interludes in the book. Jahren artfully constructs each essay as a kind of link or metaphor for the surrounding chapters–plant science as life story. And it works!

Here are some openings from these chapters to give you a flavor:

No risk is more terrifying than that taken by the first root. A lucky root will eventually find water, but its first job is to anchor–to anchor an embryo and forever end its mobile phase, however passive that mobility was.

The American South is a plant’s idea of Eden. Summers are hot, but who cares, because the rain is generous and the sunshine predictable…The heavy humidity that chokes us is like nectar to a plant; it allows it to relax and open its pores, and to drink in the atmosphere, confident that evaporation will not interfere.

The life of a deciduous tree is ruled by its annual budget.

These brief, glittering gems of science writing alternate with the “memoir” part of this book. Here’s the problem with reviewing a memoir: I find it impossible to separate the literary merits of the writing from the personality of the subject. In Lab Girl, the writing is unquestionably of high quality and the stories are interesting. Which is why I read the whole book, cover to cover, even though I felt a dislike for the author herself. Jahren rightfully complains about some aspects of a life in science, specifically, the endless, soul-sucking burden of trying to get funding for your lab. Another of her refrains felt to me more like a chip on her shoulder: that she was constantly disrespected because she was a woman. How “true” was her perception? I can’t say. But when it was revealed that the author suffers from severe bipolar disorder, I felt justified in taking some of her attitude with a grain of salt.

The memoir sections are obviously about events in Jahren’s life and scientific career. Most of them revolve around an intense relationship she has with an unusual misfit of a man named Bill. The relationship defies categorization; at times it resembles mother-son; at others, brother-sister. Book clubs should have a field day discussing it.

In summary, this critically acclaimed science memoir is beautifully written throughout. I highly recommend it for the essay chapters. If you read the memoir chapters and are turned off by the narrator, feel free to skip those parts.

Support ScienceThrillers.com and the book’s author: Click to buy Lab Girl from amazon.com

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VECTOR: Guest post by Michael Shusko

ScienceThrillers welcomes multitalented smart guy Michael Shusko, author of Vector, first book in a new military/medical espionage thriller series. Classic SciThri stuff: bioweapons, gene therapy, international terror…Sounds like fun!

All novels featured in guest author posts have been pre-screened by ScienceThrillers.com

Buy Vector from amazonBarnes & Noble

michael-shusko-vector-coverSummary:

When researcher Jawad Khattib gasps his last breath on the Massachusetts General Hospital floor, the Department of Homeland Security wants answers—especially after a preliminary autopsy suggests he died of radiation poisoning. What exactly was Khattib working on? And who was he working for?

DHS Agent Lee Jansen is rushed to Boston and paired with expert toxicologist Dr. Emma Hess to crack the case. All evidence points to the creation of a dirty bomb, but the clues seem too clean, too obvious. During the course of their investigation, they discover the horrible truth. This new weapon is far more deadly than anyone had expected. It isn’t just capable of killing hundreds—it’s capable of killing hundreds of thousands. Can they stop what’s been set in motion by a madman with a dangerous secret before it’s too late?


The Science Behind Vector

Guest post by author Michael Shusko

Genetic therapy using viral vectors is a relatively new, novel and experimental approach in the treatment of a variety of diseases. The basic concept is to use a vector (usually a viral vector) to inject therapeutic DNA into host cells. The targeted effect is to enable the newly inserted DNA to encode for and create therapeutic proteins within the cell to treat disease. While great strides in the past decade have allowed for therapeutic modification of specific genes, directed permanent alterations to endogenous human genes remain problematic. Specifically, identifying and marking in vivo genomic sequences and replacing them with modified DNA to produce life-long effects in a live human is difficult to achieve and, to many, presents ethical dilemmas.

Vector explores this science and touches on the ethical concerns surrounding permanent manipulation of the human genome for beneficent as well as maleficent goals. While investigating a mysterious and concerning death, DHS Agent Lee Jansen (who’s a bit on the bullheaded side) and the beautiful, brilliant Dr. Emma Hess sift through this emerging science as it is currently applied in the field of medicine. When they uncover illegal and unethical applications of this groundbreaking technology, their mission quickly becomes a race against time. The medical and law enforcement communities must combine forces in a high-stakes battle against international crime lords, terrorists and a dark organization. Can they thwart those who want to abuse this powerful technology before millions suffer from its effects? Or is it already too late?

As scientific breakthroughs in gene therapy continue, the medical applications and benefits of this incredible technology will continue to expand. While Vector is a work of fiction, this, like all technology, can easily be misused by unscrupulous and unethical players. Vector is the first title in my Tradecraft series. Future titles in the series will continue to explore contemporary and, at times, controversial issues as they play out on the international stage, interspersed with a backdrop of espionage, clandestine military operations and shady, subversive entities.


About the Author:

michael-shuskoMichael Shusko, MD, MPH, FAAFP, FACOEM, is an author, medical doctor and decorated Marine and Naval officer who has worked on intelligence and medical missions across the globe. Fluent in Arabic, he holds a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern studies from Rutgers University. Post-undergrad, Dr. Shusko transferred from the Marines to the Navy Medical Corps and attended medical school at Wake Forest University.

Dr. Shusko’s Middle Eastern experience and language skills coupled with his background in special operations and intelligence keep him busy deploying around the world. He has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia. Dr. Shusko has been awarded the Bronze Star twice for service in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently lives in Japan with his wife and 16-year-old triplet boys.

Full bio available at michaelshusko.com.

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New release book review: EVEREST RISING by M.D. Kambic

ScienceThrillers.com book review of Everest Rising by M.D. Kambic.

Everest Rising cover

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BlueStar5

Tech rating (out of 5):

Biohazard3

 

Publication date: November 5, 2016
Category: Science thriller / science fiction / metaphysical

Summary:

In Vancouver, an earth science firm announces the ability to replicate every known mineral on the planet.

In Switzerland, a seismologist notes a disconcerting anomaly seventy miles below the Earth’s crust.

In Nepal, the world’s highest mountain is growing.

Geophysicist James Von Kamburg leads a crack team of scientists to the Himalayas to decipher an escalating series of portentous signs: frozen glaciers are melting, plants spawn from rock, and leopards move in herds.

A mystical vision at a Buddhist monastery on the mountain forces Von Kamburg to consider science beyond anything imaginable, and to question the need for drastic action.

Jared Griffon, Von Kamburg’s brilliant former student turned rival, arrives in Nepal with no such scruples.

Everest is rising.
A cataclysm begins.

ScienceThrillers review:

Everest Rising first came to me in the autumn of 2015, as a debut author submission to my publishing company ScienceThrillers Media. In his query letter, Matt Kambic revealed a plot element (that I will NOT spoil here) that hooked me into reading the manuscript. I found a text that sparkled with intelligence–I love Kambic’s expansive vocabulary–and a strong sense of place with the setting in Nepal. The plot held together despite some weaknesses in the climax, but the book was riddled with rookie mistakes especially regarding point of view. I wrote up my critique and sent it to the author, along with a rejection. I thought that was the end of my part in this story.

Fast forward six months. Kambic not only listened to my comments, he set out to make himself a better writer. He returned to me a manuscript that had been transformed to a degree I’d never seen in a situation like this. After a few rounds of editing and back-and-forth discussion, we’d polished this debut novel to a professional level and I was proud to publish Everest Rising in November 2016.

Everest Rising is a highly original, genre-blending novel with both real science and speculative fiction elements. Kambic also steers the story into metaphysical questions and a profound ethical dilemma loosely tied to environmentalism. James Von Kamburg, an Oregon-based geologist, is afraid to father a child into a world of environmental decline. His lack of interest in their infertility is slowly pushing away his wife Maggie, an artist who occasionally experiences moments of special insight. Von Kamburg’s reckless former student–and Maggie’s former lover–Jared Griffon declares that he has found (and commercialized) the power to synthesize any mineral from cheap starting materials, and a skeptical Von Kamburg wants to believe that this seemingly impossible feat will benefit the planet. Meanwhile, a team of scientists (an amusing group of New Zealanders!) working in Nepal discovers that Mount Everest is rising–a lot, not the tiny amount expected from continental shifts. Eventually all the players end up in Nepal, where the entire natural world is being turned upside down, and Von Kamburg is faced with choices, any of which might lead to global cataclysm.

If you’re intrigued by exotic locales and Buddhist mysticism, if you like suspense without car chases and gunfights, and you think science should not be separate from ethics, pick up a copy of Everest Rising by MD Kambic.

Buy Everest Rising from publisher; amazon/Createspace; amazon/Kindle; Barnes & Noble; Apple

About the Author:

Matt Kambic hails originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He currently resides in Middle Earth, a half-hour from Hobbiton in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Matt has served as a creative writer, content developer, art director, and executive producer for a portfolio of commercial and academic clients. His work has been featured on television (The Magic Woods), in Disney games (MathQuest with Aladdin), and as a gigantic mural of a WWII “Ghost Bomber” on the side of a Pittsburgh museum (The Heinz History Center). He has also done work for Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, Robomatter, The National Robotics Engineering Center, Kennywood Amusement Park, The National Scenic Visitors Center, and Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

He is an accomplished illustrator and occasional musician.

Everest Rising is Matt’s debut novel. He is currently at work on two novels, the science thriller Tacoma Narrows, and a fantasy, The Three Green Sisters.

Find out more about Matt at his website: www.mdkambic.com.

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Artist Lisa Nilsson creates anatomic art from paper

I came across the amazing anatomic artwork of Lisa Nilsson a while ago and asked the artist for a brief interview about her Tissue Series: Anatomical Cross Sections. Nilsson creates these works out of paper using a technique called quilling.


nilssonart

ST.com: Tell us about your artwork.

In making these sculptures I aspire to a treatment of the body that combines the sensual pleasure and graphic strength of an art object, the informative and analytical approach of a scientific specimen, as well as the reverential and devotional nature of a religious reliquary.

They are made of Japanese mulberry paper and the gilded edges of old books, and are constructed by a technique of rolling and shaping narrow strips of paper called quilling or paper filigree. Quilling was first practiced by Renaissance nuns and monks, who are said to have made artistic use of the gilded edges of worn out bibles, and later by 18th century ladies who made artistic use of lots of free time. I find quilling exquisitely satisfying for rendering the densely squished and lovely internal landscape of the human body in cross-section.

ST.com: How did you get interested in anatomic art?

I’ve had a long-held interest in anatomical imagery.  Probably starting with filleting fish as a kid with my cousin Doug, who became a doctor.  Looking inside, and seeing how things work is fascinating and such a privilege when living things are involved.

ST.com: Where do you get your anatomic information? The artworks resemble MRI scans.

I used many different sources of reference when making the Tissue Series.  Primarily, the amazing and beautiful data base of cross-sections of the human body that comprise the “Visible Human Project” augmented by illustrations from historic anatomical medical books, mainly Braune and Doyen.

ST.com: Is your work medically accurate?

The work is as accurate as I could manage to make it.  I attended a one-year long program and was certified as a medical assistant in 2010.  My A&P class was very helpful, and I’ve since had the pleasure of meeting with anatomists who have told me that the work is very accurate.  This is pleasing to me, though at the time I was aware that I was making sculpture.  My goal was to make engaging objects that were accurate enough not to annoy the people who knew what they were looking at.   I did not hold myself to the high standards of a medical illustrator, nor do I have that level of expertise.

ST.com: Where is your work available for sale?

I am represented by Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York City (pavelzoubok.com)

ST.com: Who buys your Tissue Series art?

Buyers have included anatomists and surgeons as well as art collectors.

ST.com: Where else can your work be viewed?

I have an upcoming show this summer at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.


To learn more about Lisa’s art, visit her website Lisanilssonart.com

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Science in SciFi: Guest post by author Arthur Doweyko

ScienceThrillers welcomes Dr. Arthur Doweyko, author of the hard sci-fi novels Algorithm and As Wings Unfurl. Arthur blogs about science and science-y fiction concepts at his website. He offered to share some thoughts on the accuracy of science in science fiction in the essay below.

All novels featured in guest author posts have been pre-screened by ScienceThrillers.com


Science in Science Fiction: How hard?

Guest post by Arthur Doweyko, PhD

Anyone who pays close attention to the fantastic special effects in SF movies, in particular space operas, knows that most of what they see is impossible.

For example, a ship blows up in space. What do we see (and hear)? A fireball, a roar…maybe even some debris whooshing past. Unless you’re inside the ship and about to swell up with 14.7 lb/in2 ballooning your abdomen, you won’t hear a thing. And by the way, since there’s no oxygen in space, a flame would never have a chance of leaving the ship’s outer skin.

Then there’s artificial gravity … a convenient workaround for actors who would rather not be strung up like mannequins or trudge along metal floors with magnetic boots. Even if it were possible, how would you limit that gravity to the flooring of a spaceship? Speaking of gravity, what about inertia? A sudden decrease in speed from warp to normal would pancake everyone and everything in the ship.

The Enterprise shoots out a photon beam and we see it. Remember, there’s no air, no molecules, nothing for that beam to reflect off. I admit it’s more exciting to see the beam, hear the explosion, and see the ensuing fireball.

How about space travel? How often do we see a ship traverse the galaxy? Our Milky Way is about 100,000 light-years across. Even at the speed of light, it would take 100,000 years (Earth time) to get from one end to the other. Okay…there’s Einstein and his theory of relativity. If you accelerate at 1 G (equivalent to Earth’s gravity), it would take you about a year (Earth time) to get to about 99% of the speed of light (btw, you would need a year’s worth of fuel!). If you reach 99.9% of the speed of light, it would take you about 1100 years (your time) to cross our galaxy, while more than 100,000 years would have passed by for the folks back at home. Oh yeah, there’s always wormholes … although they represent a theoretical way to span huge distances in an instant, they also promise to bring you to a different time (past or future). And what about communications? Forget about it. You might need to wait more than 200,000 years for an answer to a radio message. With that long a wait, it’s likely a different form of life would be answering anyway.

Hard science fiction is meant to be a poignant warning, a realistic vision of tomorrow, which gives the reader or viewer a sense of place and destiny. However, it just doesn’t sell on the big screen. Let’s face it. We want noises in space, we like to travel quickly, we want instant communications, and we want all our alien friends to speak English. If we replace the “what if” question with “what the heck,” we’ll all get a kick out of great SF stories, because those stories are actually about us more so than the actual science. Live long and prosper.


algorithmSummary:

A gold medallion is discovered in a lump of coal over a hundred million years old. It contains a code describing human DNA at a time when there were no humans. How could this be? Adam Dove wants to know, but when he starts to investigate, his laboratory is destroyed and a close friend is murdered. Joined by a brilliant biochemist, Linda Garcia, the two are hunted by a Nazi underground bent on retrieving the disk and a mysterious alien presence, which may be more interested in destroying it. Adam and Linda face the most difficult decision of their lives-to leave all they know behind for the chance to discover mankind’s origin and purpose.


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New #STEM contest for kids: Mars Medical Challenge

Just announced: A new #STEM contest for kids

Future Engineers Mars Medical Challenge: The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, in partnership with NASA, is sponsoring a 3D printing design challenge to US students of all ages (5-19, grades K-12). If people spend three years in space traveling to Mars, how will they maintain their physical health? Turn your ideas into devices that can be 3D printed.

For a complete list of #STEM contest opportunities, visit the ScienceThrillers post.

1. Future Engineers’ Mars Medical Challenge: sponsored by American Society of Mechanical Engineers and NASA. The challenge: Create a digital 3D model of an object that could be used by an astronaut to maintain physical health on a 3-year mission to Mars. Your design must be intended to be 3D printed and could be used for a range of medical needs including diagnostic, preventative, first-aid, emergency, surgical, and/or dental purposes

futureengineers

  • K-12 students in US
  • 5-12 year-old and 13-19 year-old divisions
  • Top winners earn trip to Houston/Johnson Space Center; also MakerBot 3D printers
  • Entry deadline: January 25, 2017

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THE JEKYLL REVELATION by Robert Masello

I’ve enjoyed Robert Masello’s history- and science-themed thrillers and reviewed one, The Romanov CrossWhen I heard he has a new release this week The Jekyll Revelation, I thought I’d share. Sounds like a good one! –A.R.

On August 31st, 1888, just as the stage play of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was taking London by storm, the most notorious serial killer in history struck for the first time.

Jack the Ripper.

The grim coincidence did not escape the notice of the police, or the public, and in the hysteria that followed – the Ripper’s rampage continued for the run of the play – suspicion fell on everyone from the star who so convincingly portrayed the savage Mr. Hyde, to the author of the original story, Robert Louis Stevenson himself. Who but the creator of such incarnate evil, it was argued, could have given birth to such an actual monster?

But what if he had?

In THE JEKYLL REVELATION, history and mystery meet in a story as provocative as it is chilling. Spanning centuries and continents, from the darkened doorways of nineteenth-century London to the arid mountains surrounding present-day Los Angeles, THE JEKYLL REVELATION culminates in a terrifying discovery that solves at once an age-old puzzle and a contemporary crime.

The coincidence of the opening of a stage adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the first Jack the Ripper murder provides an intriguing starting point for Masello’s engaging thriller. In 1894 on the island of Samoa, where Stevenson has moved for his health, the writer learns that a native woman has been butchered in the same way as the Ripper’s victims. Stevenson fears that the nightmare he thought had ended in Whitechapel has come halfway across the world “to resume its dreadful enterprise.” The focus shifts to an environmental scientist in present-day California, then back to Stevenson’s creation of his legendary personification of human evil in the late 19th century. The relevance of the present-day action isn’t immediately clear, but readers’ patience will be rewarded. The sections featuring Stevenson undergoing an experimental treatment at a Swiss medical facility are nicely creepy, and Masello (The Einstein Prophecy) tosses in quite a few surprises en route to a delightfully devilish conclusion.
Publishers Weekly

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