exploring science of the imagination and beyond
by geo geller

contact: geo (at) RandomPlace (dot) com
list of Playing With Science series programs filmed between Feb 2002 - Dec 4, 2005 excerpted from ENTERTAINING SCIENCE CABARET AT CORNELIA STREET CAFÉ NYC founded by Roald Hoffman, Oliver Sacks, K.C. Cole, curated by Roald Hoffman filmed by geo geller

This list is incomplete and only reflects the programs that i filmed between goes Feb 2002 - Dec 4, 2005- - segments include Benoit Mandelbrot, Oliver Sacks, Mark Green, Roald Hoffman, K.C. Cole and many Nobel Prize winners, poets, artist, musicians etc - also many other people not listed as well as 40 min film conVERSATION with Benoit Mandelbrot in a Snow Storm and Oliver Sacks talk on Creativity at Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference and and Entertaining Science talk on his books Uncle Tungsten and Oaxaca Journal - see below for more

links to
Past Programs Origins Press Coverage

List of
PlayingWithScience programs
filmed from Feb 2002 - Dec. 4, 2005


Quarum Sensing "SMALL TALK AMONG THE BACTERIA" - June 3, 2006

Microscopic single celled organisms (a.k.a. bacteria) were, until recently, thought to live asocial lives. New research shows that bacteria are quite conversational, and that they talk with a chemical vocabulary. This chemical chit-chat is dubbed "quorum sensing" and it enables bacteria to act in unison to reap benefits and wreck havoc that cells acting as loners could never achieve.

Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will translate this bacterial language and discuss her group's efforts to develop anti-quorum sensing molecules for use as novel antibiotic therapies. Shadow puppeteers Todd Reichart and Jennie Lee Mitchell will explore the interesting things that happen when one becomes many and the many transform.


A mouthful, that word. Yet you feel the implicit paradox in it, of the soft and the hard. For soft as we are, we have bone and teeth (and wish they wouldn't fail us!). And there is nothing more beautiful in Nature than the shelters and solid inner structures that small and big critters alike have evolved. Lia Addadi of the Weizmann Institute and Joanna Aizenberg of Bell Labs will introduce us to this exquisite world of structure and function between the organic and inorganic. Agata Olek (an artist who will crochet anything from a Venice vaporetto to prostate cancer), working with actor Carol Haunton, will crochet balloons and a fairy tale to illuminate a Venus Flower Basket, a glass sponge which "traps" two shrimp in its interior. Maybe she'll crochet around you; watch out!


Daniel Conrad, an award-winning filmmaker from Vancouver, will show us his two most recent films -- one bearing the title of this program, the other, "7 Universal Solutions." Both feature contemporary New York and Canadian dancers, and forces of nature. René Hen, who studies genetic models of anxiety and depression, will tell us of mutant mice and chimeras in modern biology. And friends will read some apposite poems by Wislawa Szymborska.

"IN YOUR EAR" - Mar. 5, 2006

In one of our less plausible eighth grade lessons, we learned that hammers, plucked taut strings, and reeds stir up the air, and that clutter, passing through our ears... somehow emerges in the brain as music! This evening, composer/violist Karen Waltuch and her quartet (with Loren Dempster, Mary Wooten, and Leanne Darling) will most pleasantly fill our ears with air molecules vibrating in response to her original compositions. And eclectic Rockefeller University neurobiologist Jim Hudspeth will try to explain what really goes on in there. .

"Evolution" - Feb. 5, 2006

Evolution, with Richard Milner, Jonathan Weiner and friends, Richard Milner .

NEON! - Dec. 4, 2005

Something about intense, clear, colored light delights the eye and mind. Light artists Kenny Greenberg and Clare Brew, teaming up with dancer and choreographer Rachel Cohen, will create synaesthestic light fantasies for us. Roald Hoffmann will lapse into his professorial mode, and do a show-and-tell on emission, absorption, and line spectra, while Oliver Sacks recounts the remarkable history of the noble gases. .


Our lives, careers, failures, loves and successes are as much directed by chance meetings as by our internal compasses. But surely science can make reliable predictions? Not so fast! Outcomes can still appear random, even if all the rules are known. Mathematician and poet Phil Holmes will expand on chaos theory and how it does and doesn't help one find one's way in the world. Poet Susan Case will tell how mathematicians hung out in the Scottish Cafe in Lvov before being swept into the vortex of World War II. A quartet, led by Ben Holmes (trumpet) and featuring Brian Drye (trombone), Take Toriyama (drums) and Reuben Radding (bass) will take the theme to music, with original compositions and free improvisations on traditional melodies of East Europe.


Europeans march in opposition. Africans leaders refuse American genetically modified corn while their people starve. And yet today our processed food almost all contains FDA-approved GM ingredients. Small-scale farmers in China and India are adopting GM crops as eagerly as large-scale American farmers. Who's right? Why the controversy? Nina Fedoroff, a leading biologist, author of "Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods," answers these questions.....and any others you wish to ask. She is then joined by the exciting Murat Erdemsel talking about and performing Argentine tango.

FERNS - Sept. 4, 2005

Companions to dinosaurs and Victorians, edible and poisonous, resurrecting, close to the earth and arboreal, unfurling, sexy, and mysterious --- ferns are very special, very ancient plants. Robbin Moran of the New York Botanical Garden, a world expert and author of "The Natural History of Ferns" will tell us of these plants. Oliver Sacks will read from his "Oaxaca Journal" about a recent fern society expedition; poet Liz Socolow will read some poems about ferns. And Reuben Radding on contrabass and Karen Waltuch on viola will play! It may be that the plants themselves will make a rare cafe appearance.


There was a time when science, music, and art in Islamic lands represented high culture to Europe. These cultural strands continue to influence the world today. Elaheh Kheirandish of Harvard University will tell us about mathematics and science in the classical Islamic world. Dave Soldier, a leading improvisational musician and composer on the New York scene, will play with his new group, The Spinozas (including Na'Ti Lachmy, Richard Khuzami, and Nelida Tirado), who mix contemporary gypsy/flamenco style with Middle Eastern traditions and the lyrics of Al Andalus. And Islamic art historian Carol Bier will bring two contemporary carpets from Turkey, woven using traditional methods with natural dyes. Comparing patterns and the uses of color, she will explore symmetry and symmetry-breaking in what we call Oriental carpets.


Science, done by human beings, has ethical and moral dimensions. A play by Vince LiCata, a biologist at Louisiana State University, explores this, with some dance and a little gun-play. The staged reading of "Mexican Hat Dance" will be directed by Barbara Bosch, with actors from the Hunter College Department of Theater. K.C. Cole, one of the founders of our program, and a great writer, will talk about the uneasy dance of science and government - past, present (and future?). And anthropologist and singer-songwriter Richard Milner will perform songs about Darwinian morality, angst, and politics from his acclaimed musical about the great evolutionist.

WHY DO BIRDS SING? - May 1, 2005

Musician, writer, and philosopher David Rothenberg hosts an evening devoted to the topic of his new book with the title of this program (Basic Books, 2005) which shows how we need science, music, and poetry to make the most human sense out of what birds are up to. He's joined by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory neuroscientist Partha Mitra, who has worked on zebra finch brains and cell phone communications, and is now trying to tackle the underlying structure of mockingbird songs. He will also sing some songs of the eminent Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore! Both are joined Leon Gruenbaum on an instrument of his own invention, the Samchillian TipTipTipCheeepeeeee.


So, 100 years ago, Albert E. published some papers that shook the world of physics. It's the time and space to celebrate four dimensions of the man. In our own way: Humorist Steve Mirsky reports a deep conversation with Einstein's parrot; writer and journalist Fred Jerome will read some excerpts form his book "The Einstein File," detailing J. Edgar's Hoover's obsession with showing that Einstein was a dangerous subversive, storyteller Sharon Glassman updates Princeton's waltz toward an Einstein memorial. And the photoelectric, nonrelativistic Deni Bonet plays for Albert, on her blue electric violin.


Indeed, we must, in time. And there's something to learn about life through death. In "Dreadful Sorry, Guys," performance artist Claudia Stevens's eerie vocalizations, interlocking monologues and fierce piano playing combine in a haunting, bittersweet and sardonic one-act inspired by the murder of a childhood friend by hate criminals. And the audience gets to sing and recite as well! Shai Shaham is a brilliant young biologist at Rockefeller University, who will tell us of his work on programmed cell death, apoptosis. From undead cells in the nervous system of an unusual research organism, the worm C. elegans (another coil), we learn how apoptosis might be controlled.

ECO-OPERA-EVO Feb. 6, 2005

Does anyone need convincing that life is an opera? We mean real life, not yours. Phoebe Legere ("...a name to conjure with ... She is an American original, she's fun, she's funny, she's smart. She's a beauty, almost like a Carole Lombard. But the main thing about her is SHE'S GOOD"-Studs Terkel, NPR) will use her latest invention, the Sneakers of Samothrace, to perform excerpts of her opera on the evolution of life, The Common Root of All Organisms. She is paired with Mark Moffett, an ecologist trained under E. O. Wilson. Mark, as close to Indiana Jones as they come, is one of the great nature photographers of our time. He will use his colorful images to discuss the common structural features of ecosystems.


Ursula von Rydingsvard, a wonderful sculptor of mystery and memory in wood, will show images of her work. And Paul Greengard, a Nobel laureate neurobiologist from Rockfeller University will tell us of his studies of the mechanism of action of neurotransmitters, of therapeutic agents and drug abuse. They just happen to be a couple. And they do art and science, building structures large and small, their work calmly and intensely speaking to others, always trying to understand. Do art and science, have anything in common? What goes on in our mind when we discover and create? Avis Berman, a writer and art historian, will comment.


What choice but to create, to take one thing into another? By way of example, Shoko Nagai (piano) and Satoshi Takeishi (audio processing, percussion) make haunting, compelling music out of essential transformations. And Roald Hoffmann shows how there is no better emblem for true change than chemical reaction.


In an interview near the end of his life Trane was asked to identify the

person he respected most. He replied "Albert Einstein". Coltrane's spiritual quest through music balanced improvisational allusions to Eastern and African symbolic forms with the theory of general relativity and cosmology.

Stephon Alexander, a cosmologist and musician at Stanford, will talk of the relationship between Coltrane’s approach to jazz improvisation and the theory of general relativity and quantum gravity. And he will play a few pieces on sax, some of Trane, as well as Stephon’s own compositions, which explore this connection. He’ll be accompanied by Papa Smurf, a freestyle rapper, and a percussionist.

Storyteller Sharon Glassman was recently asked to investigate the current culture of Einstein in Princeton for Seed Magazine. She'll debut her upcoming essay -- including questions about Einstein's second violin, extremist fans, and a long-debated Einstein statue-in-progress to be erected in 2005 on E=MC Square.

HIDDEN WATER - Nov. 2, 2003

Without it there would be no life, no rainbows, no blue planet. After our first nine months in water heaven, we emerge to find this resource in jeopardy. David Wolfe, Cornell professor of ecology and author of "Tales From the Underground: A Natural History of Subterranean Life," begins our story with a poetic twist, including a remarkable contribution from James Joyce. Seattle-based photographer Alexis Wolfe continues with a visual perspective. Then Uri Shani from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem tells of the "miracle" of water flowing upward from roots to leaves in tall trees, no pump in sight. And wonders why nature requires such a huge expenditure of precious water by the plant kingdom.

Judy Joice and Murray Weinstock, who perform regularly at the Café with Stu Woods on bass, will bring us songs of the gentleness of water rolling in and tickling your toes, of the neglect and abuse of water as well as its healing powers, through Blues, Gospel and Jazz compositions.


Several years ago David Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History, curated a wonderful exhibition on this unique organic material that survives millennia. And gives us a clear window on the invertebrate past. He will show spectacular images of insects in amber, in conversation with Alex Shedrinsky, a New York chemical detective, who will reveal amber forgeries (don't bring in your necklaces, please, unless you are strong). Alex will also show some of the first pictures of the restored Amber Room of Catherine’s Palace near St. Petersburg.

An insect, trapped -- a two word description of a 20th century literary masterpiece. Can you guess what it is? We'll hear a piece of it. Unless we are diverted on the low road to another kind of masterpiece...

A father-son literary-musical exploration of the heart and allied precious organs.

Award winning novelist and medical writer Jay Neugeboren, talks about the before, during, and after of his emergency quintuple bypass heart surgery, of how, after two doctors missed the diagnosis, his life was saved by several doctor friends, one of whom, from 3000 miles away, got the diagnosis right, and of what Jay learned about the nature of disease and diagnosis, the state of contemporary health care, and the doctor-patient relationship. Appearing with Jay will be at least one of these friends--Gerald Friedland, Director of AIDS programs, clinical and research, at Yale-New Haven Hospital and Medical School. Moving north and south, from the heart to other vital organs, Jay's son Eli will appear as lead singer for The Organ Donors, a rock group that features several sexy nurses (The Percadettes), funky beats, psychedelic guitar riffs, singalong choruses, litanies of symptoms, and slapstick, porno science rap.

HARD/SOFT WARY Aug. 3, 2003

The Internet and the ubiquity of personal computers have changed the way human beings relate, and changed the way we think about machines. Choreographer/singer Christopher Caines will perform dream.screen, a solo work in progress for voice, electronics, and percussion that examines the effects of Web-mediated communication on language and emotion. And Hod Lipson, a computer scientist and engineer at Cornell will

talk (and show some video clips) on his new work on evolutionary robotics.


What do a glass bubble, a math problem, Global Positioning Systems, and a novel made into song have in common? Taking off from the Surrealist “Exquisite Corpse” drawing game, the participants -- Jill Reynolds, a glass artist and sculptor who references science, Robert Berkman, mathematician and teacher, Jonathan Levi, writer and musician, and Greg Lock, a sculptor who uses GPS data to invent virtual objects, will make the connections. Nancy Manter, daughter of an artist and medical scientist, will begin the evening by sharing her own set of dots, while introducing the individual presentations.

WHY NOT? May 4, 2003

The Shavian serpent's "You see things and you say 'Why?'", but I dream things that never were and say, 'Why Not,"" might just be a reflection on the difference between science and engineering. Or an argument for transgressing, in the service of creation, the natural/unnatural boundary.

Nadrian Seeman of NYU, who builds nanoscopic stick figures, devices and patterned arrays out of DNA, and choreographer Rachel Cohen and artist Agata Oleksiak, who play with potential and actuality of the human body through movement, clown and mask, costume, and film, explore this theme in Roald Hoffmann's May 4 Entertaining Science at the Cornelia Street Café.

MUSIC ON THE BRAIN April 6, 2003

By what seeming magic is music invented and played? How, exactly (or not), is it perceived and experienced? Swedish neurophysiologist and concert pianist Fredrik Ullén will play, and discuss his studies of how the brain controls music performance. In this evening of action and reflection on music, he will be joined by Carol Krumhansl, a cognitive scientist from Cornell, who will tell us of her fascinating work on tension and emotion in music, testing the psychological reality of proposals from music theory. They will ask (but not answer) the question of why music plays such an important role in the human experience.

HEAVY METAL - March 2, 2003

Malleable, reflective, conducting, magnetic or not – metals have fascinated humanity. And led to music and art, in several ways. On this metallic evening, see sculptor Daniel Brush’s images of his gold and steel works, and listen to Oliver Sacks, whose recent book is “Uncle Tungsten”, as he speaks of and demonstrates some real heavy metals. Composer and musician Elliott Sharp will play some apposite music on a steel guitar, and Roald Hoffmann may broach the gamma brass problem.

Dancing Hypercycles, Songs of Leprosy - February 2003

This evening of biological song and dance features a mother and son act -- microbiologist Helen Davies, an award-winning professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and her son, Vancouver filmmaker Daniel Conrad. Conrad left a career in molecular immunology to make experimental dance films (full of biological metaphor) for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and documentaries on connections between art and science for PBS and Bravo. He will show two short dance films and explain how films are structured like organisms (an idea first proposed by Sergei Eisenstein). Davies will talk and sing (gasp!) about leprosy, gonorrhea, herpes, dengue fever, and other infectious diseases. Song sheets (properly autoclaved) will be handed out, so the audience can sing with her.

GOOD VIBRATIONS - January 2003

Rapport, linkage, consonance -- that's exactly what musician/engineering professor Ken Jolls will bring to the Cornelia Street Cafe on January 5. With musicians-turned-health-care-professionals Linsy Farris, Hal Winfield, and David Levine on bass, guitar, and drums, Ken will demonstrate just how "good vibe-rations" can be. A long-time devotee of the instrument made popular by Lionel Hampton, Ken and his healthy quartet will play tunes from the great years of jazz.

But what would an engineer be without a little science? Don't be surprised if you hear something also about vibrating bars and sine waves and organ pipes and dampers and fistfulls of mallets (with even a little body english thrown in to make it all work). Leave your worries at home -- there'll surely be a doctor in the house!

NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T - December 1, 2002

Science will never seem more magical than on this evening. Koji Nakanishi and Ged Parkin are Columbia University chemists who will let the audience into at least two of their lives. While Nakanishi studies the intimate details of the chemistry of vision, Parkin figures out how inorganic catalysts do their wonders. And they are magicians. They’ll show a far from gullible audience how we see, or maybe don’t see, what is plainly in sight. And, extending the theme of mastery of mystery to sound, the one and only Pamelia Kurstin will play the Theremin.

LIVING SPACE - November 3, 2002

No, not that perfect cheap apartment in the Village, but a quantum leap into the world of dance and science. For the stage of the Cornelia Street Café, only about a thousand times smaller than the Met’s, choreographer and dancer Diann Sichel has created a dance for Melanie Velo-Simpson and Josiah Pearsall, accompanied by singers Wendy Baker and Erik Kroncke. All are Tigers, of the Princeton species. There will be music by percussionist Chacho Ramirez and flutist and composer Carolyn Steinberg, and poetry of dance by Ellen Goellner. And motion under constraint turns out to be a hot theme in chemistry and biology as well, as Roald Hoffmann, the host of the Entertaining Science series, will describe. The audience may be moved, and not only to ask questions.


So much more than changing “me” into “moi” or H2O into water, the act of translation is central to both art and science, and especially the busy borderlands between the two—a lively chit chat in which metaphor, emotion, number, image, argument are all part of the equation, all have something to add to the conversation. Come and hear masterly translators Dava Sobel (“Longitude,” “Galileo’s Daughter”), K.C. Cole (“The Hole in the Universe,” “The Universe and the Teacup,”), cosmologist Marcelo Gleiser (“The Prophet and the Astronomer,” “The Dancing Universe,”) and chemist, poet and playwright Roald Hoffmann talk about the tricky (and treasonous?) art of transference through which thoughts turn into words, observations into theories—sometimes, even water into vin.


Human beings struggle to understand and represent the world's deep structure through mathematics, science, art, music and poetry. On Sept. 1, yes, the evening before Labor Day, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, largely responsible for fractal geometry, will show and discuss a few of his mathematical pictures. Some mimic mountains or clouds, while others are very complex and first shock but soon look oddly familiar, especially to the artist. He will wonder why, and ponder the everlasting struggle in our minds between the word and the picture. He will tell old and new stories of: iconoclasts and other humans, stories of reason and unreason, bold hope or despair, in the search for smoothness in a world that is in every way wildly rough. Emily Grosholz, a poet and philosopher, will read some of her poems on mathematical themes. And Elliott Sharp, a composer and experimental musician inspired by fractals and mathematics, will show us what an electric guitar can do in an autoreferential mode. Join us for an exciting evening in Roald Hoffmann's "Entertaining Science" series!

NOT JUST SO STORIES - Aug. 4, 2002

Telling stories is quintessentially human, a deep source of satisfaction in science as well as in music and life. As Roald Hoffmann's Aug. 4 "Entertaining Science" program at the Cornelia Street Cafe will show. The evening will begin with chemist Mark Green telling us what George Washington, Adolph Hitler and an Egyptian pharaoh have to do with how helices tell left from right. Singer, songwriter, and musician Eve Moon will entertain us with some story-telling songs. And writer/performer Sharon Glassman, who creates sparkling, witty, and sad monologues from almost-true stories, will explore the science of love from Cupid's point of view. And Roald Hoffmann will reflect, briefly, on why stories are important to scientists, even as they don’t fess up to telling them.


Not only on Broadway, and not only by Ovid -- musical and molecular metamorphoses are the themes of Roald Hoffmann’s July 7 “Entertaining Science” show at the Cornelia Street Café. Insects are the best chemists…. but have you ever wondered how they transform plant poisons into pheromones? How metamorphoses can be blocked to guarantee perpetual youth (well, actually perpetual immaturity)? In another realm, how did J.S. Bach’s alchemy transmute elementary themes into musical masterpieces? Chemist Jerrold Meinwald, musicologist Charlotte Greenspan, and molecular biologist Joseph Arron team up to illuminate these and other metamorphic mysteries with a unique combination of words and live musical performance.


Can the Big Bang tell us about life? Come Sunday, June 2, to the Cornelia Street Café and find out. Roald Hoffmann's "Entertaining Science" series will a host a triple response: Leading cosmologist, Joel R. Primack (University of California, Santa Cruz), will talk about "Gravity, the Ultimate Capitalist Principle." Nancy Abrams, Cosmic Troubadour, will perform several songs from her new CD, "Alien Wisdom." And NYU physicist, Richard Brandt, 3-time international Tae Kwon Do champion, ten times on the David Letterman show, will show us the tie between the physics of sports and the universe.

THE ART OF THE BRAIN - April 7, 2002

Strewing the world with all the wonders of its creation, the human brain remains the most splendid mystery. Come on April 7 to the Cornelia Street Café, where Roald Hoffmann will host three perspectives on the brain’s richesse in the “Entertaining Science” series. Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux will talk about his work and ideas on the Synaptic Self. British theatre artist Jack Klaff will interweave reflections on improvisational comedy and screen acting with insights from his other profession: science communicator. Central to the evening will be writer extraordinaire Diane Ackerman’s poetic fantasias on what's so magical about what the brain does, and why/how Shakespeare's brain was different.


What do Schopenhauer, DNA and electronic drum music have in common? Come and find out in the March 3 ”Entertaining Science” program curated by Roald Hoffmann at the Cornelia Street Café (March 3, 6PM). Schopenhauer’s striking thesis that the world is driven by a “blind will” is related to the drive of “selfish genes” to propagate themselves in a remarkable, poetic exposition by Swedish-Hungarian writer and tumor biologist George Klein. Lukas Ligeti, a talented young Austrian composer and musician (with Hungarian roots, recently moved to New York) will play some apposite electronic music of his own (joined by a friend in part), influenced by African musical traditions. And the participants will then enter with Roald Hoffmann in a discussion, with some Hungarian and American poetry read. It may even be that Edgar Allen Poe will put in an appearance.


When one considers that human beings still regularly slam their thumbs with hammers, it should come as no surprise that our attempts to unravel nature's profoundest truths might include comedy. In fact, some science and more than a few scientists are funny. Or at least do funny things. As part of the “Entertaining Science” series, Feb. 3, at 6 PM, at the Cornelia Street Café, Roald Hoffmann hosts four takes on humor in science, featuring Marc Abrahams, editor of the science humor journal Annals of Improbable Research and Impresario of the Ig Nobel prizes; Jim Lyttle, a management professor at Long Island University, who studies the science of humor itself, including the brain's processing of funny stuff, Lynda Williams, the Physics Chanteuse, and Steve Mirsky, Scientific American magazine's humor columnist (which he likens to making the best sloppy joes at the culinary institute) The evening will be funny. Seriously.

Thermodynamics and the Purpose of Life - Jan. 6, 2002
first ENTERTAINING SCIENCE CABARET - went to but didn't film

Roald Hoffmann, who last appeared at the Cornelia Street Café in May in the company of Oliver Sacks and K.C. Cole, starts a brand new monthly Science at the Cornelia St. Cafe series on Sunday January 6, 2002 at 6pm. Featured in the inaugural event will be biologist Lynn Margulis, her son and writer extraordinaire, Dorion Sagan, and musician, writer and philosopher David Rothenberg. Their subject is… “Thermodynamics and the Purpose of Life.”

Have you ever wondered why we are here? Expect the poetic, the unexpected and, last but not least, a new scientific reason for the purpose of life. With music. Just as the difference between high and low pressure masses explains why a tornado swirls into existence, so the difference between hot sun and cold Earth may explain why life behaves as it does.

What on earth these people can do to address this tantalizing subject, remains a mystery. But, we anticipate on January 6th all will be revealed.

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