Guide to Graduate Studies

This Guide is intended to provide a concise overview of the requirements and procedures of our graduate program in Physics and Astronomy. It is not intended to supplant in any way the regulations or requirements that are spelled out in LSU's General Catalog and Graduate Bulletin. Graduate students are expected to know and comply with the regulations of the Graduate School. In any instance where this Guide is in conflict with the Catalog or Bulletin, the Catalog or Bulletin information takes precedence. The Catalog and the Bulletin are available online at the web site of the LSU Graduate School.

The graduate program is designed to provide a general post-graduate education in Physics and/or Astronomy. At the Ph. D. level, the goal of the program is to develop a professional-level competence in creative research. At the Master's level, the program is intended to provide a general competence in Physics and/or Astronomy suitable either for teaching or for technical employment in a related field. The department also offers a Masters Degree in Medical Physics and Health Physics, as well as a Medical Physics concentration for the PhD Degree, described in Appendix B.

Undergraduate Preparation

Students seeking admission into the department should have at least thirty hours of fundamental undergraduate courses in physics including General Physics, Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Optics, and more advanced topics such as Quantum Mechanics, Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics, Atomic Physics, and Nuclear Physics. Courses in mathematics through differential equations and linear algebra are also required. Students with deficiencies in physics or mathematics will be required to make up these deficiencies.


Ph.D. Program Overview

The program has three phases. In the first phase, the emphasis is on coursework and the comprehensive Qualifying Examination. During this first phase, students are encouraged to participate in research, but are at the same time cautioned to observe the time limitations imposed by other requirements, including especially examination preparation.

The second phase contains advanced-level courses and an emphasis on beginning research under the direction of a major professor, chosen by mutual consent. Advancement from the first phase into the second is accomplished primarily by passing the Qualifying Examination. The end of the second phase is marked by the passing of the General Examination, which includes an examination in the student's chosen field of study as well as the defense of a dissertation proposal. In the final phase, a student focuses on scholarly research leading to the thesis. A student concludes his degree program with a final oral examination in which the student defends his/her dissertation--the dissertation being the formal, written culmination of the student's research effort.

Most students receive support in the form of teaching assistantships, service assistantships, research assistantships, or fellowships. The purpose of these is to allow students to pursue full time studies in Physics and Astronomy without the distraction of seeking outside support, and to provide research and teaching experience. In the later stages of a student's career, a research assistantship or fellowship is intended to allow the student to devote full time to thesis research. Assistantships should not serve as impediments to the progress of a graduate student toward his/her degree. Likewise, graduate students should not think of assistantships as providing semi-permanent employment.

It is expected that students will gain support through a research assistantship as soon as possible. Graduate students in good standing are automatically eligible to hold teaching or service assistantships in the Department of Physics and Astronomy only during their first two years. After this time, such appointments can only be made after the student's faculty advisor petitions the Assistantship Committee and are subject to availability. These appointments are intended to cover temporary shortfalls in funding, not long term support. It is ultimately the student’s responsibility to find a research group that has sufficient funding to support them.

The procedures, regulations, and required standards of performance are described below under the headings of course-work, examinations, and research. Students interested in astronomy should read Appendix A of this guide, which describes the requirements of the astronomy program.




To be considered full-time, a student must be registered for at least 9 credit hours, of which at least 6 must be at the "graduate level", numbered 4000 or higher. Students on academic probation may be subject to stricter requirements.

No student on an assistantship or fellowship from Physics and Astronomy may register for more than one course per semester (2 per year) outside the department without special approval from the major professor and Graduate Advisor (not including required English courses for foreign students). At any point in the student's career, the cumulative number of courses outside the department will always be expected to be less than the number of courses the students have taken in Physics and Astronomy.


Course Offerings

There is a set of basic Physics courses (Core courses) that students are required to take. These courses constitute a general introduction to graduate-level physics. Students are urged to take them at their earliest opportunity:

Classical Mechanics Study of particle mechanics and rigid body mechanics using the methods of Lagrange's equations, Hamilton's equations, canonical transformations, and Hamilton-Jacobi theory.
Statistical Mechanics  Principles of classical and quantum statistics, with application to special problems.
Electrodynamics I  PHYS 7231 is prerequisite for 7232. Problems in electrostatics and magnetostatics; Maxwell's equations, electromagnetic waves, wave guides, and antennas; relativistic electrodynamics and radiation from moving charges.
Electrodynamics II  PHYS 7231 is prerequisite for 7232. Problems in electrostatics and magnetostatics; Maxwell's equations, electromagnetic waves, wave guides, and antennas; relativistic electrodynamics and radiation from moving charges.
Quantum Mechanics I Prereq.: PHYS 4142 or equivalent. PHYS 7241 is prerequisite for 7242. Basic concepts of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, operators and matrices, Intrinsic and orbital angular momenta, perturbation theory, atomic structure, second quantization, and scattering theory. 
Quantum Mechanics II  Prereq.: PHYS 4142 or equivalent. PHYS 7241 is prerequisite for 7242. Basic concepts of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, operators and matrices, Intrinsic and orbital angular momenta, perturbation theory, atomic structure, second quantization, and scattering theory.
Graduate Laboratory  1 hr. lecture; 6 hrs. lab. Practical experience in modern experimental physics laboratory techniques.
Graduate Seminar Pass-fail grading. May be repeated for credit. Introduction to research areas in the department; training for presentation of scientific talks; preparation of research proposals. 

*PHYS 7398, Graduate Laboratory, may be subsituted by either ASTR 7361 Astrophysics Laboratory or MEDP 4351+4352 Radiation Detection and Instrumentation with the consent of the student’s research advisor.

In addition to the Core Courses, various elective courses are offered regularly. These are survey or topical courses at the graduate level in major areas of physics:

Intermediate Mathematical Methods Prereq.: consent of instructor and department chair. May be repeated for a max. of 6 hrs. of credit. Individual reading in current areas of physics, topics in professional development and presentation of undergraduate research.
Introductory Condensed Matter  Prereq.: PHYS 2203 or 4141 or CHEM 4492. Properties of the crystalline state and the free-electron; band theories of metals, insulators, and semiconductors.
Subatomic Physics  

Prereq.: PHYS 2203 or 4141. Nuclear and particle properties, abundance and stability of nuclei, strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces, nuclear instrumentation, particle accelerators and detectors, nuclear reactions, and particle and nuclear astrophysics.

Radiation Detection and Instrumentation (MEDP 4351) Prereq.: PHYS 3098 or equivalent, credit for or registration in MEDP 4331; or equivalent; consent of instructor. Introduction to the physics of detection, instrumentation,  and data analysis used to measure ionizing radiation (gamma rays, x-rays, neutrons, and charged particles) using scintillation crystal, solid state, film, and gass detectors.  Provides understanding of underlying principles of detection systems used in radiation therapy, radiological imaging and health physics.  
Radiation Detection Laboratory
(MEDP 4352)
Prereq.: credit or registration in MEDP 4351. 3 hrs. lab. laboratory exercises covering fundamental principles of radiation detection systems and data analysis techniques used for radiation measurements in radiation therapy, radiological imaging and medical health physics.
General Relativity  General tensor analysis; postulates of general relativity, field equations, equations of motion, interior and exterior Schwarzchild solutions; cosmology.
Advanced Quantum Mechanics Prereq.: PHYS 7242. The Lorentz group, relativistic wave equations, introduction to quantum field theory.
Astrophysics Laboratory
(ASTR 7361)
Practical experience in modern observational techniques in astronomy, instruments, detectors, data analysis, and statistical methods. 
Condensed Matter I  Prereq.: PHYS 7225 and 7242. PHYS 7363 is prerequisite for 7364. Application of quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics to condensed matter; lattice vibrations, energy bands in crystals, transport properties, collective excitations, ferromagnetism and superconductivity; theory of Fermi and Bose quantum fluids, phase transitions, and critical phenomena.
Nuclear Physics I  

Prereq.: PHYS 4271 and 7241. PHYS 7373 is prerequisite for 7374. Applications of quantum mechanics to the two-nucleon system, to a system of many nucleons, and to nuclear reactions, with comparisons between theory and experimental results.

High Energy Physics I  Prereq.: PHYS 7231 and 7242. Strong electromagnetic and weak interactions of hadrons and leptons, including symmetries and selection rules; quantum chromodynamics and electroweak theory; accelerator and nonaccelerator experiments including cosmic rays and high energy astrophysics.
Computational Physics I  

Prereq.: PHYS 7211. PHYS 7411 is prerequisite for PHYS 7412. Basic numerical techniques for solution of mathematical equations, including coupled linear algebraic and differential equations, and numerical simulation techniques; emphasis on application to physical problems.

Radiation Transport (MEDP) Prereq.: PHYS 2203 or equivalent, CSC 2262, or equivalent. Same as MEDP 7537. 
Monte Carlo Methods (MEDP)  

Prereq.: MEDP 7537 or consent of instructor, CSC 2262 or equivalent experience in computer programming. Same as MEDP 7538.

Advanced Seminar  May be taken for a max. of 6 sem. hrs. of credit. See ASTR 7777.
Stellar Astrophysics I, II  PHYS 7741 is prerequisite for PHYS 7742. See ASTR 7741, 7742.
Galactic Astrophysics I, II  PHYS 7751 is prerequisite for PHYS 7752. See ASTR 7751, 7752.


Finally, a group of advanced courses are offered occasionally, subject to faculty availability and student demand:

Mathematical Methods I, II Prereq.: PHYS 4112 or equivalent. PHYS 7211 is prerequisite for 7212. Advanced topics in mathematical methods of theoretical physics; mathematical foundations in quantum mechanics.
Quantum Information Theory Classical and quantum methods for data compression and communication over channels; measurement theory and entropy. 
Quantum Computation Turing machines, classical and quantum models of computation, NP-completeness, theorems and algorithms for quantum computation.
Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics I, II  Prereq.: PHYS 7242; PHYS 7353 is prerequisite for 7354. Applications of quantum mechanics to atomic systems and their interaction with radiation; spectral levels, photoabsorption and collisions with charged particles.
Low Temperature Physics Properties of matter at temperatures near absolute zero; methods of producing low temperatures; superfluidity of liquid helium, superconductivity, magnetic effects, and adiabatic demagnetization. 
Condensed Matter II  Prereq.: PHYS 7225 and 7242. PHYS 7363 is prerequisite for 7364. Application of quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics to condensed matter; lattice vibrations, energy bands in crystals, transport properties, collective excitations, ferromagnetism and superconductivity; theory of Fermi and Bose quantum fluids, phase transitions, and critical phenomena.
Computational Physics II  Prereq.: PHYS 7211. PHYS 7411 is prerequisite for PHYS 7412. Basic numerical techniques for solution of mathematical equations, including coupled linear algebraic and differential equations, and numerical simulation techniques; emphasis on application to physical problems.
Advanced Condensed Matter I, II  Prereq.: PHYS 7242. PHYS 7463 is prerequisite for PHYS 7464. Density functional theory of electronic structure, mean field, and renormalization group theory of phase transitions; linear response theory; quantum transport, Landau theory of Fermi liquids; systems of strongly interacting electrons, superconductivity.
Quantum Field Theory  May be taken for a max. of 9 hrs. of credit.
Topics in Astronomy/Astrophysics May be taken for a max. of 6 hrs. of credit when topics vary. See ASTR 7783. 
Many-Body Theory  Prereq.: PHYS 7242. Pass-fail grading. May be taken for a max. of 6 hrs. of credit. Diagrammatic techniques, thermal Green's functions, transport theory, Fermi liquids, collective excitations, phase transitions.
Selected Topics in Advanced Physics  May be repeated for credit. Pass-fail grading.
Current Development in Physics  May be repeated for credit. Pass-fail grading.




Requirements for the Advanced Degrees

For the Ph.D. degree in physics, the department requires that a student pass the Qualifying Examination and General Examination (described below) and to fulfill these course requirements: (1) Core courses and (2) nine hours to be drawn from the advanced Physics and Astronomy courses that carry numbers greater than 7000.

A summer research project may count as one of these advanced courses provided that a substantial project is carried out, a written report is submitted and approved by the research advisor and the chairman of the department, and a short oral report on the work is given to and accepted by a committee of at least three faculty members. Registration in "Independent Research in Physics", (3 credit hours of PHYS 7996), will be required as a means of obtaining the credit.

Students may also elect to obtain a minor in another department, such as Mathematics or Electrical Engineering. The corresponding department sets requirements for an external minor.

Students who enter our program after successfully completing graduate courses in Physics at another university may petition to have such courses used to partially fulfill our department's course requirements as described above, provided the courses have substantially the same content. The student must provide a full description of the course and the textbook used. Such petitions will be handled on a case-by-case basis and will be decided by the Graduate Student Advisor and the Department Associate Chair.

The master's degree in physics follows the guidelines set forth in the LSU catalog under "Requirements for Advanced Degrees," so you should read that in addition to this guide. Except for students in the Medical and Health Physics program (discussed below in Appendix B), students in our department are admitted with the expectation that they will pursue a Ph.D. in Physics. The M.S. degree can be obtained in addition to the Ph.D. or as a "terminal" degree for those who leave the program before completing a Ph.D.

There are two paths to completing the M.S. Degree in physics. The thesis option requires 30 hours of coursework, of which at most 6 hours can come from thesis research (PHYS 8000 or 9000), and the successful completion of a master's thesis. The non-thesis option requires a total of 36 hours of coursework (not including PHYS 8000 or 9000). Any student pursuing either master's degree option must complete the graduate Core Courses listed in the table in the Course Offerings section above. In either option, the student must take the Qualifying Exam (described in the next section below) at least once in the first year of graduate study. They must pass the Qualifying Exam by the end of the fourth semester completed at LSU. Passing at the MS level requires a grade of 50% or better. A full-time graduate student taking a full graduate course load (9 hours each semester and 6 hours in the summer) can finish the M.S. coursework requirement by the end of the 4th semester.

In the final semester of study, a student pursuing a terminal M.S. degree using the non-thesis option must pass the M.S. Comprehensive Final Exam administered according to the guidelines in the LSU General Catalog. For a student obtaining a thesis master's degree, this oral exam will be replaced by the thesis defense. A student will be allowed to take the M.S. Comprehensive Final Exam only if they have passed the Qualifying Exam at the master's level.

The format of the M.S. Comprehensive Final Exam requires that the student gives a presentation of a journal article chosen from a list of approved articles maintained in the department office. The examining committee will ask the student questions about this article as well as about the physics relevant to it. In some cases, a student may present research work done at LSU while in graduate school instead of the journal article report, provided this alternative has been approved beforehand by the head of the examining committee. The M.S. Comprehensive Final Exam must be scheduled during the spring, summer, or fall semesters; it cannot be scheduled between semesters. Only one attempt at this examination will be allowed.

Students who seek the M.S. degree en route to their Ph.D. degree can do so by using their successful General Examination (described below) pass as a replacement for the M.S. Comprehensive Final Exam. If they wish to obtain the M.S. degree before this point, they must follow all the procedures outlined above for the non-thesis option, including specifically the requirement of 36 hours of coursework (not including PHYS 8000 or 9000) and the Comprehensive Final Examination, which can be administered by the Qualifying Exam Committee.

A Ph. D. candidate who is unable to pass the departmental Qualifying Exam at the Ph. D. level may obtain a terminal Master's degree by passing the Qualifying Exam at the master's level by their fourth try and then passing the M.S. Comprehensive Final examination in the semester immediately following their final unsuccessful attempt on the Qualifying Exam. A student who fails to achieve a Ph. D. pass on the fourth try at the Qualifying exam at the end of the spring semester must then take the Master's examination in the summer.

Students who wish to pursue a dual Master's Degree with Physics as the second department must apply and be admitted to our department under normal criteria. They must also have a faculty advisor in our department when starting, in order to tailor their selection of courses. The degree requirements are the same as above, except that a maximum of six credit hours from the student's home department may be used concurrently to satisfy our department's credit hour requirement.

Physics and Astronomy students who opt to take a Master's Degree in a second discipline must conform to the other department's guidelines for such a program, as well as satisfying all of our requirements for their Physics degree.


Physics Students in other departments may obtain a minor in Physics by taking at least 12 credit hours of graduate-level courses in our department, of which at least 3 credit hours must be at the 7000 level. A Physics and Astronomy faculty member must agree to serve on the student's advisory committee.


Grades are assigned to describe student performance in courses. Grades of A, B, and C are considered satisfactory for credit. Our department adheres to a standard of interpretation and assignment of specific grades, which is commonly used in American graduate programs in Physics. The grade of A indicates a good understanding of the material; a B represents acceptable work, but if obtained in advanced courses (i.e., non-core courses), it is not adequate for recommending the student's entry into a research area for which the course provides an essential basis. A grade of C is acceptable for obtaining credit but indicates a poor understanding of the material. Grades of D and F are uncommon in graduate courses and identify unacceptably poor work.

Only graduate students with acceptable academic records may be appointed to graduate assistantships. No student admitted on probation may be appointed to a graduate assistantship until the student has achieved good standing. A student, originally in good standing, whose cumulative grade point average drops below a B (3.0) will be placed on probation. Note that a B- corresponds to 2.7 grade points, so may pull the grade point average below 3.0.

A graduate assistant who is placed on academic probation during an appointment period may be permitted to retain the assistantship only if the student's department can justify the retention to the Dean of the Graduate School. A student on academic probation may not be appointed or reappointed to a graduate assistantship unless the student's cumulative grade-point average is at least 3.3. For example, a student who is placed on academic probation either for failure to earn a 3.0 semester average or for making a U in research but who has a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.3 may be appointed or reappointed to a graduate assistantship for one semester.


As part of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree, the Graduate School calls for a General Examination, which every student must pass. As stated in the Graduate Bulletin, "The examination must be comprehensive enough to demonstrate expert competence over broad segments of the major field...".

To satisfy the above requirements, the Department of Physics and Astronomy has a two-part sequence of examinations. All students must, within two years of entry, pass a written "Departmental Qualifying Examination". After passing this examination, and after working in a research group for approximately a year, the student must pass an oral examination with a committee that includes the major professor and three or four others from our faculty (appointed by the Chair) as well as a representative appointed by the Graduate Dean. This latter examination will formally be designated our department's General Examination.


Qualifying Examination

The Departmental Qualifying Examination is administered twice in a year, on one day at the end of fall and spring semesters. The specific date will be set by the Exam Committee at the beginning of the semester. It is a written examination, given in two parts, a morning and an afternoon session of three hours each. The exam covers quantum mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and classical and statistical mechanics at an advanced undergraduate level. Typically there are about 12 questions on the exam, four from each area, but the exam committee can adjust this.

The questions for the exam are chosen by the Exam Committee from a test bank, which is available to the students. The test bank evolves over time, but is not changed during the semester. So, all of the potential questions for the exam are known ahead of time. A pass at the Ph.D. level is 60% scored from all the questions, 50% at the MS level.

The exam should be attempted during the first year, normally at the end of the second semester. It must be passed within the first two years that the student is in the program. That allows a maximum of four tries if the student takes the exam every time it is offered during their first two years. In the event of failing the exam, the student must attempt the exam when it is next offered until a pass is obtained. A student who retakes the exam must take the entire exam.

Students are strongly urged to give a full effort in every attempt at the Qualifying Examination. Some research groups in our department may not take on new students with very low scores on their records. 


General Examination

The second tier of the exam system is the General Exam. This is an oral examination administered by the student's Thesis Committee and is usually must be completed by the end of the student's fourth year, though it is greatly to the student's advantage to complete it sooner. Many faculty members are reluctant or unable to commit research support to students until they have passed their General Exam, and some travel awards are only available after the General Exam is completed. The General Exam can occur only after the student passes the Qualifying Exam, and should occur approximately one year later.

The General Exam consists of two parts:

  1. An oral special topics exam covering general knowledge in the student's area of study. This comes in the form of questions from the committee answered by the student.
  2. An oral defense of a written thesis proposal.

The results of the General Exam are reported to the graduate college.


Final Examination / Oral Dissertation Defense

The Final Oral Examination is confined for the most part to areas pertaining closely to the student's dissertation. However, some questions of a general character may be asked and, as a tradition, any question whatsoever is allowed.



Immediately after passing the General Examination, a student should begin by the end of that semester a concentrated research effort under the supervision of a selected major professor who has agreed to serve as the student's research director and faculty advisor. The student is responsible for producing a meaningful, original contribution to the field of his/her research.

Within one year after passing the General Examination, the student should meet with his/her Thesis Committee to review progress in courses and in research. After that, during the time a student is involved with his dissertation research, he/she and his/her major professor will assess the progress of the student's work at the end of each academic year. If it is decided by a student's committee that he/she is not making satisfactory progress in his/her research, the committee will present the student with a formal written notice to this effect, and financial aid may be terminated. The committee will make recommendations to the student and to the department head concerning the resolution of the problem. (A possible recommendation is that the student should be dropped from the Ph.D. program).

It is a departmental degree requirement that a major part of the results of the dissertation research must have been accepted for publication in an appropriate refereed professional journal. The student must also produce a Ph.D. dissertation that clearly describes his/her research work in a manner that complies with the instructions of the Graduate School and with high scholastic and professional standards (See the A.P.S. Style Manual and the Graduate School's instructions for dissertation preparation). The dissertation must be submitted to the student's committee at least two weeks prior to the final dissertation oral examination (which the department will arrange upon request). After the examination, the committee may accept or reject the dissertation, or may require modifications of it. Except for minor ones, modifications may require resubmission of the dissertation and/or a retake of the oral exam. In any case, it is a degree requirement that the dissertation in its essentially finalized form that is defended by the student in the oral examination. It must be approved by the student's committee (with no more than one dissension). Committee dissatisfaction with one's dissertation usually may be avoided by sufficient consultation with the committee members during the preparation of the dissertation.

Once the dissertation has been approved by the student's committee, it may be submitted to the Graduate School in partial fulfillment of degree requirements. Students who wish to be graduated at the end of a given term must take the responsibility for meeting the corresponding deadlines specified in the academic calendar.


Appendix A


Students wishing to pursue their graduate studies in the areas of Astronomy and Astrophysics may do so within the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Upon successful completion of their program of study, the student will receive a Ph.D. in Physics. Such students are required to satisfy the requirements given above in this document.

No formal background in undergraduate astronomy is required. However, a new student should have a working knowledge of the basic facts of astronomy such as that found in most elementary textbooks.

Students are expected to master material covered in the basic graduate-level astronomy and astrophysics courses. Among the advanced elective courses required of all graduate students, astronomy and astrophysics students are expected to take these four courses: 7741,7742 - Stellar Astrophysics I, II, and 7751,7752 - Galactic Astrophysics I, II.


Appendix B


To meet the demand of hospitals and industry for trained medical physicists and health physicists, the LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy offers graduate degrees in Medical Physics and Health Physics. The Master of Science in Medical Physics and Health Physics degree program is oriented toward professional training, and students graduating from the program are well prepared to enter a medical physics residency program or health physics employment, respectively, and for future board certification exams. For those interested in academic research and teaching in medical physics, the Department also offers a Medical Physics concentration within the PhD degree. Those receiving a PhD (Medical Physics concentration) are well prepared for a post-doctoral position and/or medical physics residency program, as well as future board certification exams.

 Masters degree students spend one year in the classroom learning the fundamentals of medical and health physics, radiation biology, and human anatomy. Next, they learn to apply the knowledge gained in the classroom. Medical physics students take additional courses in medical physics and receive clinical training and experience in radiation therapy physics by working side-by-side with medical physicists, medical dosimetrists, and radiation oncologists at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. Students in the health physics concentration take additional courses in applied nuclear science to prepare them for careers at hospitals, industrial companies, national laboratories, and government agencies that use or regulate radiation sources.

 PhD students complete advanced coursework and research training to prepare them for a career in academic research and teaching, as well as clinical physics.

 Masters degree students in both the medical physics and health physics concentrations are required to complete a thesis based on hypothesis-driven research. Thesis research typically begins at the end of the first year and should be completed by the Spring semester of the third year, in time for the common July 1 residency start dates. The thesis is expected to be of appropriate quality for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.  PhD students complete a research project for their doctoral dissertation, as well as other metrics such as the medical physics PhD Qualifying Exam, General Exam, and Final Defense.  The dissertation must be of appropriate quality for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Details of the program can be found in the Medical Physics website. The website includes information for prospective students regarding admissions and for current students regarding policies and procedures.

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