Tiny, strangely hardy animals called water bears—or tardigrades—have led researchers to discover a new type of glass.
The tardigrade’s remarkable ability to withstand extreme environments of hot and cold, and even the vacuum of space inspired Juan de Pablo, professor in molecular engineering at the University of Chicago.
Specifically, he read about what happens when scientists dry out tardigrades, then revive them with water years later.
“When you remove the water, they very quickly coat themselves in large amounts of glassy molecules,” says de Pablo. “That’s how they stay in this state of suspended animation.” Liquid yet solid
The glass discovery appeared this spring in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Now, a new paper in the Journal of Chemical Physics bolsters the earlier research, which found indications of molecular order in a material thought to be entirely amorphous and random.
“These are intriguing materials. They have the structure of a liquid, and yet they’re solids. They’re found everywhere, and we still do not understand how this process of turning from a liquid into a solid occurs,” says de Pablo.
Their results potentially offer a simple way to improve the efficiency of electronic devices such as light-emitting diodes, optical fibers, and solar cells. They also could have important theoretical implications for understanding the still surprisingly mysterious materials called glasses.
Rich nations at UN climate talks are said to be edging towards a compromise on the thorny issue of loss and damage.
Poorer countries want compensation for extreme weather events that they link to large scale carbon emissions.
But the US and EU have long resisted this idea, fearing an endless liability running into billions of dollars.
However a clarified proposal from the US, to be made on Friday, is being seen as a "step forward" by some delegates.
Loss and damage has increasingly become a totemic issue for developing nations, who point to events like Typhoon Haiyan as an example of the tremendous damage that extreme weather events can wreak on the most vulnerable.
They argue that the world is seeing a greater frequency of these events and they are caused, in the main, by emissions of carbon dioxide that are mainly the responsibility of the rich.
The existence of parallel universes may seem like something cooked up by science fiction writers, with little relevance to modern theoretical physics. But the idea that we live in a “multiverse” made up of an infinite number of parallel universes has long been considered a scientific possibility – although it is still a matter of vigorous debate among physicists. The race is now on to find a way to test the theory, including searching the sky for signs of collisions with other universes.
It is important to keep in mind that the multiverse view is not actually a theory, it is rather a consequence of our current understanding of theoretical physics. This distinction is crucial. We have not waved our hands and said: “Let there be a multiverse”. Instead the idea that the universe is perhaps one of infinitely many is derived from current theories like quantum mechanics and string theory. The many-worlds interpretation
You may have heard the thought experiment of Schrödinger’s cat, a spooky animal who lives in a closed box. The act of opening the box allows us to follow one of the possible future histories of our cat, including one in which it is both dead and alive. The reason this seems so impossible is simply because our human intuition is not familiar with it.
But it is entirely possible according to the strange rules of quantum mechanics. The reason that this can happen is that the space of possibilities in quantum mechanics is huge. Mathematically, a quantum mechanical state is a sum (or superposition) of all possible states. In the case of the Schrödinger’s cat, the cat is the superposition of “dead” and “alive” states.
But how do we interpret this to make any practical sense at all? One popular way is to think of all these possibilities as book-keeping devices so that the only “objectively true” cat state is the one we observe. However, one can just as well choose to accept that all these possibilities are true, and that they exist in different universes of a multiverse.
Each year, humans reduce the number of trees worldwide by 15 billion. This is one of the startling conclusions of new research published in the journal Nature. The study also estimates the Earth is home to more than three trillion trees – that’s 3,000 billion – so you may think that while 15 billion is a very large number, humans shouldn’t be at risk of making significant changes to global tree cover.
However, the team of 31 international scientists led by Thomas Crowther at Yale University also present evidence that the rise of human civilisation has reduced the numbers of trees on Earth by 46%. In many areas we can’t see the wood because there are no trees. Unlike polar bears, pandas or peregrine falcons, trees and their demise typically do not generate much passion or protest. But the 180,000km2 of tree cover being lost each year represents a serious destabilising force on the current biosphere.
Previous estimates for the total number of trees on Earth have been much lower. The new study is important not only because it gives a higher number, but how it was produced. As well as using remote sensing data such as images taken by satellites that can classify land type, the research also integrated 429,775 ground-based assessments of tree density.
With the exceptions of wood and bamboo, bicycle frames usually aren't made from sustainable resources. And although some programs do exist, we generally don't think of old bike frames getting recycled. Italian design studio Eurocompositi is setting out to change that, however, with its 3D-printed Bhulk mountain bike frame.
Researchers have discovered a protein that can be used to create ice-cream that melts more slowly than conventional products. It works by binding together air, fat and water – creating a pudding with a super-smooth consistency. The future of Cuba’s socialist ice-cream cathedral Read more
The development could also allow products to be made with lower levels of saturated fat – and fewer calories. Scientists at the universities of Edinburgh and Dundee say that ice-cream made with the protein could be available in three to five years.
As well as keeping ice-cream frozen for longer in hot weather, it could prevent gritty ice crystals from forming, ensuring a fine, smooth texture like those of luxury brands.
Prof Cait MacPhee of the University of Edinburgh’s school of physics and astronomy, who led the project, said: “We’re excited by the potential this new ingredient has for improving ice-cream, for consumers and for manufacturers.”
The team developed a method of producing the new protein – which occurs naturally in some foods – in friendly bacteria and it works by sticking to fat droplets and air bubbles, making them more stable in a mixture.
It is believed that using the ingredient could benefit manufacturers as it can be processed without otherwise changing performance and can be produced from sustainable raw materials.
The protein, known as BslA, was developed with support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
In the summer of 1986, Ron Jones was sitting on a beach in Oahu drawing lines in the sand. It was a few months after the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff, and Jones was suddenly out of a job. He’d been working as an aerospace engineer at Vandenberg Air Force base, helping build out Space Launch Complex 6—the area the Air Force planned to use for launches before everything came to a screeching halt when NASA put the brakes on the shuttle program.
For as long Jones could remember, he had spent his free time pondering the trajectory of space travel five, 30, 50, even 100 years down the cosmic road. By the time he got to his first job at Vandenberg, Jones had developed his own ideas about how and when humans would move permanently beyond Earth. To him, space travel was a cosmic Rube Goldberg machine. To reach the end goal—which he considered to be large-scale habitation of Mars—a thousand little things had to happen first. Things like creating reliable in-orbit transportation vehicles, mining asteroids for materials, and building a thriving community on the moon.
As the fictional Sean Parker might put it: ‘A million people logging in to Facebook on a single day isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion people’.
The non-fictional Mark Zuckerberg has announced a new milestone for the social network: one billion daily users.
“For the first time ever, one billion people used Facebook in a single day. On Monday, 1 in 7 people on Earth used Facebook to connect with their friends and family,” wrote Zuckerberg in a post on his personal profile.
“When we talk about our financials, we use average numbers, but this is different. This was the first time we reached this milestone, and it’s just the beginning of connecting the whole world.”
The news is no great surprise: Facebook has been growing steadily, and in the second quarter of 2015 it averaged 968 million daily active users, and 1.49 billion monthly active users.
Based on its figure of 844 million daily active mobile users during that period, Facebook may well reach the total of 1bn people logging in from smartphones and tablets in a single day in the not-too distant future too.
“A more open and connected world is a better world. It brings stronger relationships with those you love, a stronger economy with more opportunities, and a stronger society that reflects all of our values,” wrote Zuckerberg. Do Netflix, Spotify and Facebook know me as well as they think? Read more
The milestone came shortly after Facebook revealed its latest product, Facebook M, a virtual assistant within its Messenger application that blends artificial intelligence technology with human “trainers” to complete tasks for users.
On Aug. 26, NASA held a media teleconference regarding current predictions on sea level rise, highlighting the risks to coastal populations in low-lying areas, and the inherent problems in creating reliable global models. A panel of experts from NASA's recently-founded Sea Level Change Team tells us that ocean levels are inexorably on the rise, but gaps in our understanding and ability to survey risk regions mean we don't know just how fast the change will take place.
"People need to be prepared for sea level rise, we're going to continue to have sea level rise for decades and probably centuries, it's not going to stop, the question is how fast is it going to be?" states Josh Willis, climate scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "If you live on a coastline, or you have some economic dependence on a coastline, we have to be prepared for rising seas, it's not a question of how much, but rather when."
The board stated that the rise in ocean levels is coming from three distinct sources. The first is thermal expansion, in which ocean water expands as it is heated, taking up more volume and causing sea levels to rise. This effect has been exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions, of which the ocean absorbs over 90 percent of the resultant heat.
The second source is ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, while the final third is from melting mountain glaciers. Ice sheets and glaciers can be lost from contact with warmer air, the creation of icebergs, or from interaction with warm sea water. It is estimated that the Greenland ice sheet alone has lost around 303 gigatons of mass per year for the last decade.
We are aware of this thanks to a number of scientific instruments wielded by NASA and its partners. A notable contributor to our knowledge has been the Jason 1 & 2 and TOPEX/Poseiden satellites, whose altimeters have allowed for incredibly precise measurements. Simultaneously NASA's GRACE satellite has been observing Earth's gravitational field, taking accurate measurements in order to determine by how much ice sheets and glaciers are shrinking.
When Stevens Institute of Technology hired me a decade ago, it installed me for several months in the department of physics, which had a spare office. Down the hall from me, Albert Einstein's electric-haired visage beamed from a poster for the "World Year of Physics 2005." The poster celebrated the centennial of the "miraculous year" when a young patent clerk in Bern, Switzerland, revolutionized physics with four papers on relativity, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. "Help make 2005 another Miraculous Year!" the poster exclaimed.
As 2005 wound down with no miracles in sight, the poster took on an increasingly poignant cast. Passing the office of a physics professor who made the mistake of leaving his door open, I stopped and asked the question implicitly posed by the "Year of Physics" poster: Will there ever be another Einstein? The physicist scrunched up his face and replied, "I'm not sure what that question means."
Let me try to explain. Einstein is the most famous and beloved scientist of all time. We revere him not only as a scientific genius but also as a moral and even spiritual sage. Abraham Pais, Einstein's friend and biographer, called him "the divine man of the 20th century." To New York Times physics reporter Dennis Overbye, Einstein was an “icon" of "humanity in the face of the unknown." So to rephrase my question: Will science ever produce another figure who evokes such hyperbolic reverence?
I doubt it. The problem isn’t that modern physicists can’t match Einstein's intellectual firepower. In Genius, his 1992 biography of physicist Richard Feynman, James Gleick pondered why physics hadn't produced more giants like Einstein. The paradoxical answer, Gleick suggested, is that there are so many brilliant physicists alive today that it has become harder for any individual to stand apart from the pack. In other words, our perception of Einstein as a towering figure is, well, relative.
Gleick's explanation makes sense. (In fact, physicist Edward Witten has been described as the most mathematically gifted physicist since Newton.) However, I would add a corollary: Einstein seems bigger than modern physicists because--to paraphrase Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard--physics got small.
Today, a few hundred Bay Area Facebook users will open their Messenger apps to discover M, a new virtual assistant. Facebook will prompt them to test it with examples of what M can do: Make restaurant reservations. Find a birthday gift for your spouse. Suggest—and then book—weekend getaways.
It won’t take long for Messenger’s users to realize M can accomplish much more than your standard digital helper, suspects David Marcus, vice president of messaging products at Facebook. “It can perform tasks that none of the others can,” Marcus says. That’s because, in addition to using artificial intelligence to complete its tasks, M is powered by actual people.
The first computer 'mathematically guaranteed' not to lose any data has been unveiled by researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab.
The research proves the viability of an entirely new type of file-system which is logically unable to forget information accidentally. The work is founded on a processes known as formal verification, which involves describing the limits of operation for a computer program, and then proving the program can't break those boundaries.
The computer system is not necessarily unable to crash, but the data contained within it cannot be lost.
"What many people worry about is building these file systems to be reliable, both when they're operating normally but also in the case of crashes, power failure, software bugs, hardware errors, what have you," Nickolai Zeldovich, a CSAIL principal investigator who co-authored the new paper, said in a press statement. "Making sure that the file system can recover from a crash at any point is tricky because there are so many different places that you could crash. You literally have to consider every instruction or every disk operation and think, 'Well, what if I crash now? What now? What now?' And so empirically, people have found lots of bugs in file systems that have to do with crash recovery, and they keep finding them."
Once upon a time, in the Pony Expresso cafe in Seattle, a man and a woman began to experience the long-mysterious but increasingly scientifically investigated thing we call love. The first stage is called "limerence." This is the spine-tingling, heart-twisting, can't-stop-staring feeling, when it seems as though the world stops whirling and time itself bows down and pauses before the force of your longing. The man, a then-44-year-old University of Washington research psychologist named John Gottman, was drawn to the woman's wild mane of black curly hair and her creativity: She was an amateur musician and painter as well as a psychologist like himself. The woman, a then-35-year-old named Julie Schwartz, who'd placed a personal ad in the Seattle Weekly that John had answered, was turned on by John's humble little car—voted the ugliest vehicle in the University of Washington faculty parking lot—and his expansive curiosity. He read physics and math and history and kept a little spiral-bound notebook in his pocket that he used to jot down things his companions said that captivated him.
A few years ago in a lab in Panama, Klaus Winter tried to conjure the future. A plant physiologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, he planted seedlings of 10 tropical tree species in small, geodesic greenhouses. Some he allowed to grow in the kind of environment they were used to out in the forest, around 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Others, he subjected to uncomfortably high temperatures. Still others, unbearably high temperatures—up to a daily average temperature of 95 F and a peak of 102 F. That’s about as hot as Earth has ever been.
It’s also the kind of environment tropical trees have a good chance of living in by the end of this century, thanks to climate change. Winter wanted to see how they would do.
The answer came as a surprise to those accustomed to dire warnings that climate change will turn the Amazon into a desert. The vast majority of Winter’s seedlings didn’t die. In fact, most thrived at significantly warmer temperatures than they experience today, growing faster and larger. Just two species succumbed to the heat, and only at the very highest temperatures. The trees’ success echoes paleontological data, which hints that warmer temperatures can be a boon for tropical forests. After all, the last time Earth experienced average temperatures of 95 F, there were rainforests in Michigan and palm trees in the Arctic.
That doesn’t mean climate change won’t affect tropical forests of today. It already is. And it definitely doesn’t mean humans needn’t worry about global warming. Climate change will be the end of the world as we know it. But it also will be the beginning of another.
Imagine if things like undersea cables or medical implants could simply heal themselves back together if severed – it would certainly be easier than having to go in and fix them. Well, scientists at Pennsylvania State University are bringing such a possibility closer to reality. They've created a moldable polymer that heals itself when exposed to water – and it's based on squid sucker ring teeth.
Led by Prof. Melik Demirel, the researchers started by studying sucker ring teeth collected from squid in various locations around the world. Although the exact composition of the teeth varied between species, it was found that the same proteins which allow them to self-heal were always present.
A growing number of tech moguls are trying to solve their biggest problem yet: aging.
From reprogramming DNA to printing organs, some of Silicon Valley's most successful and wealthy leaders are investing in biomedical research and new technologies with hopes of discovering the secret to living longer.
And their investments are beginning to move the needle, said Zoltan Istvan, a futurist and transhumanist presidential candidate.
"I think a lot of the most important work in longevity is coming from a handful of the billionaires," Istvan told Tech Insider. "There are approximately six or seven billionaires that are very interested in life extension, and they are putting in $40 [million], $50 [million], $100 million out there every year or every few years into this stuff. It makes a big difference when you have these legendary figures saying, 'Hey, we can do this.'"
A new study estimates that 90 percent of individual seabirds alive today have consumed some form of plastic.
“This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution,” says lead author Chris Wilcox, a senior research scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship.
Dark matter—the unseen 80 percent of the universe’s mass—doesn’t emit, absorb or reflect light. Astronomers know it exists only because it interacts with our slice of the ordinary universe through gravity. Hence the hunt for this missing mass has focused on so-called WIMPs—Weakly Interacting Massive Particles—which interact with each other as infrequently as they interact with normal matter.
Physicists have reasons to look for alternatives to WIMPs. For two decades, astronomers have found less dark matter at the centers of galaxies than what WIMP models suggest they should. The discrepancy is even worse at the cores of the universe’s tiny dwarf galaxies, which have few ordinary stars but lots of dark matter.
About four years ago, James Bullock, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, began to wonder whether the standard view of dark matter was failing important empirical tests. “This was the point where I really started thinking hard about alternatives,” he said.
Bullock thinks that dark matter might instead be complex, something that interacts with itself strongly in the way that ordinary matter interacts with itself to form intricate structures like atoms and atomic elements. Such a self-interacting dark matter, Bullock suspects, could exist in a “dark sector,” somewhat parallel to our own light sector, but detectable only through the way it affects gravity.
He and his colleagues have created numerical simulations that predict what the universe would look like if dark matter feels strong interactions. They expected to see the model fail. Instead, they found that it was consistent with what astronomers observe.
Lighter fluid may be useful for getting barbecue briquettes or campfires lit, but it's not the most eco-friendly stuff in the world. It's often made from crude oil, and gives off toxic fumes when it burns. A team of scientists from Hong Kong and Hungary are developing what could be a greener solution, however – cleaner-burning lighter fluid derived from discarded paper.
Led by István T. Horváth from City University of Hong Kong, the researchers start with paper waste and newsprint. Using sulfuric acid as a catalyst, they convert it into levulinic acid and formic acid, which are in turn converted into a compound known as gamma-valerolactone (GVL).
Pure GVL creates no toxic fumes – when it was used as fuel for glass lamps burning in a small room for several hours, it created no noticeable smoke or odors. By contrast, the emissions from kerosene-fueled lamps – which are commonly used in the developing world – are a major source of health problems.
And yes, GVL is also an effective fire accelerant when added to charcoal. Although it works rather slowly in its pure form, it can ignite charcoal within just a few seconds if combined with ethanol. In lab tests, it was found that an ignited mix of 90 percent GVL and 10 percent ethanol gave off 15 percent less volatile organic compounds than traditional lighter fluid.
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.
Biologist Peter Ward returned earlier this month from the South Pacific with news that he had encountered an old friend he hadn’t seen in more than three decades—a creature that scientists believe may be one of the rarest animals in the world.
Allonautilus scrobiculatus is a species of nautilus that Ward and a colleague had previously discovered off of Ndrova Island in Papua New Guinea. Nautiluses are small, distant cousins of squid and cuttlefish. They are an ancient lineage of animal, often christened a “living fossil” because their distinctive shells appear in the fossil record over an impressive 500-million-year period. The recent sighting indicates there is still much to learn about these creatures.
“Before this, two humans had seen Allonautilus scrobiculatus,” says Peter Ward, professor of biology and earth and space sciences at the University of Washington. “My colleague Bruce Saunders from Bryn Mawr College found Allonautilus first, and I saw them a few weeks later.” Living fossil
Those sightings were in 1984, when Ronald Reagan was finishing his first term as president and the oldest millennials were starting preschool. Ward and Saunders collected several Allonautilus scrobiculatus specimens for analysis and realized that their gills, jaws, shell shape, and male reproductive structures differ significantly from other nautilus species.
“Some features of the nautilus—like the shell giving it the ‘living fossil’ label—may not have changed for a long time, but other parts have,” Ward says.
Allonautilus also sports a distinctive accessory clearly visible in photographs: “It has this thick, hairy, slimy covering on its shell,” Ward says. “When we first saw that, we were astounded.”
Scientists have long believed that while an atom's outer electrons are highly mobile and often behave somewhat chaotically, the inner electrons close to the nucleus are stable. They move steadily around the nucleus and stay out of each other's way. But new research reveals that if the pressure is really extreme, like double that found at the center of the Earth, the innermost electrons of an atom change their behavior.
The international team of researchers that observed this anomalous, unexpected phenomenon managed to put a metal called osmium, which is almost the densest of all known metals and almost as incompressible as diamond, under static pressure of over 770 gigapascals. That's more than twice as high as the pressure at the center of the Earth and 7.7 million times higher than the mean atmospheric pressure at the sea level.
The scientists were able to do this thanks to a device called a diamond anvil cell, which can put sub-millimeter-sized materials under pressure comparable to that which creates diamonds. The portion of the research team from Bayreuth University in Germany developed synthetic diamonds that could fit between two ordinary diamonds and on each side of the osmium crystal. These synthetic diamonds reduced the area in which the osmium could fit, thereby increasing the pressure to new extremes.
It’s a popular sci-fi plot: Earth sets up colonies on Mars; Mars colonies grow, developing their own technologies and culture; Mars colonies rebel against overbearing Earth government, demanding independence. It happens in Total Recall, in Babylon 5, in Red Mars.
But what if we gave Mars its independence right from the get-go? Rather than giving future colonies to governments or corporations, Jacob Haqq-Misra thinks we should let Martian colonists develop their own values, governments, and technologies, with minimal interference from Earth. Haqq-Misra is an astrobiologist at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, a non-profit organization that promotes international unity in space.
Not only would Haqq-Misra's strategy preclude any Martian wars for independence, but cultural independence could help Martians think differently enough to solve problems that Earth continues to struggle with—such as working together to fight global environmental problems, or making long-term plans for the future of humanity.
Sometimes I am shadowboxing with a powerful opponent that I can't see, feel or understand. It is a mindless and undeterable attitude that reacts to me automatically based on a set of data I don't know and that has no interest in my unique perspective. It is the robot-like rigidity that confronts me, and sometimes I witness it in myself confronting others. Are we any better than programmed machines? What makes us human? Is Alphabet, Google's new holding company going to spell it out?
Humanity is in a technological identity crisis and Google's Ray Kurzweil is intent on designing our future. We are lining up passively as technology seems more and more to rule. Much of education today is limited to memorizing short-lived data for specialized jobs, not learning how to think. Data in a sales training becomes an automatic arsenal of rebuttals to gain a sale. Data gets pounded into the brain-box for a professional exam with no subtlety, just right and wrong answers. Worse, the data can be a store of prejudices assimilated from childhood and empowered by positions of authority. Worse still, data can be an evil agenda stamped into the brain that takes no prisoners, suffers no debate and powers through no matter what. In all these cases the possibility of mutual understanding is killed. "Both/And" thinking that resolves differences, or "I'm ok/You're ok" attitudes are not even up for consideration. Or are they? Can we humans become more human? On the other hand, will subtle thinking, like sleep, be built into the immortal android race being prepared by Google's head of research, Mr. Kurzweil?
"Humans will continue to be creative," is Kurzweil's simple answer to the question what will humans do when the androids take over! That is nice...but what about the androids? And are we losing this race? Creativity may be our most human characteristic; and yet so often that capacity to think outside the box is stuck. A report in the NY Times is a vivid example of stuck thinking. The article was a very human shout out to women who might otherwise have been railroaded into mastectomy. For those who have taken this step, their courage and will to survive should be honored.
Researchers at Michigan Technological University have found a way to convert light to hydrogen fuel more efficiently — a big step closer to mimicking photosynthesis.
Current methods for creating hydrogen fuel are based on using electrodes made from titanium dioxide (TiO2), which acts as a catalyst to stimulate the light–>water–>hydrogen chemical reaction. This works great with ultraviolet (UV) light, but UV comprises only about 4% of the total solar energy, making the overall process highly inefficient.*
The ideal would be to use visible light, since it constitutes about 45 percent of solar energy. Now two Michigan Tech scientists — Yun Hang Hu, the Charles and Carroll McArthur professor of Materials Science and Engineer, and his PhD student, Bing Han — have developed a way to do exactly that.
They report in Journal of Physical Chemistry that by absorbing the entire visible light spectrum, they have increased the yield and energy efficiency of creating hydrogen fuel by up to two magnitudes (100 times) greater than previously reported.**
As described in the paper, they used three new techniques to achieve that:
“Black titanium dioxide” (with 1 percent platinum) on a silicon dioxide substrate; A “light-diffuse-reflected surface” to trap light; An elevated reaction temperature (280 degrees Celsius).
In addition, the new setup is “convenient for scaling up commercially,” said Ho.
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