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What was the charge on an electron? The answer to this question opened up a plethora of experiments that led to present developments, the answer was provided by Millikan who conducted his famous oil drop experiment to find it. It is however difficult to understand his experiment. This physics animation depicts the experiment in step by step manner with detailed explanation and is very useful for teachers and students.

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Millikan's oil drop experiment :

Category : Atomic theory
Type : Animation
Total animation length: 50 minutes
Animation Type : Advanced

Animation contains the following

1) How was the charge on the tiny particle electron determined?
Millikan's oil drop method
2) Why Millikan used oil drops?
3) How the oil drops were charged?
4) Forces acting on the oil drops
5) Calculations to determine the charge & mass
6) How was quantization of charge proved?
7) Achievements of oil drop experiment

More regarding Millikan's experiment in explanatory notes-

Early attempts to determine the charge on an electron
How Millikan determined the Avogadro number ?

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Millikan's experiment

Millikan's experiment

Ionizing air molecules

Oil drops observed by millikan through microscope
Ionizing air molecules
Oil drops observed through microscope

Forces acting on the oil drops, drag force (not shown here) also acts on the drop

Oil drops falling in the chamber
Forces acting on the oil drops, drag force (not shown here) also acts on the drop
Millikan's oil drop apparatus

millikan Drag force calculation on oil drop

Millikan's oil drop apparatus
Drag force calculation on oil drop
Details of the animation/ movie /software

Though J.J Thomson discovered the electron, it was left for Robert Millikan to measure the charge of an electron and thereby enabled the calculation of its mass.

Before Millikan Townsend and later on Wilson made an attempt to measure the charge on the drop but the experiments that they conducted were highly prone to large number of errors. The main failure was that there was no way of isolating an individual particle (So the values were suspected.) Until Millikan devised his land mark experiment.


For his experiment Millikan used very tiny oil droplets (due to its low evaporation rate). As the oil drops entered the chamber picked up charges through friction with the nozzle of the atomizer and colliding with air molecules.

charged oil drop

They were also subjected to radiation source so that the probability of charged oil drops will be high in the chamber.

These droplets were allowed to fall initially under the influence of gravity and air resistance. Millikan observed these drops through a microscope. By focussing on a single oil drop its terminal velocity was calculated. Then the oil drops were subjected to electric field.

millikan terminal velocity was also calculated.

Since the oil drops were charged the electric force influenced them. An oil drop moving slowly towards the positive plate was focussed. Its terminal velocity was also calculated. Then by applying fluid dynamics in equations of motion, the charge on the drop was determined.
He measured the charge for numerous drops and found that the smallest charge was always 1.6 * 10-19 C. He assumed that this integer to be the fundamental unit of charge, the charge on an electron. From this the mass of an electron was calculated which was found out to be 1830 times smaller than that of a hydrogen atom.

This provided the evidence for electron as a sub atomic particle.

Thus Millikan found that
a. Charge is quantised
b. Electron is a sub atomic particle
c. Avagadro's number more accurately

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Q & A
Q1: what give millikan the interest to study the charge of an electron cris 21/3/2014
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Q2: calculate frequency of if light illuminating a copper surface if threshold frequncy of copper is 1.08 *10 ki power 15 hz and velocity of electron emitted is 1.11*10 ki power 6 m/s . mehnaz 16/3/2014
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Q3: why we use silicon iol in millikan oil drop method experiment MEHNAZ 16/3/2014
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Q4: if barium has a threshold frequency of 6.07*10 ke power 14 hz, calculate kinetic energy of electron emitted when barium is illuminated with a wavelength of 385 nm? mehnaaz 16/3/2014
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Q5: calculate wavelength of light in nm , illuminate a barium surface if threshold frequncy of barium is 6.07*10 ki power 14 hz and kinetic energy of electron emited is 1.31*10minus 18 j mehnaz 16/3/2014
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Q6: CALCULATE threshold wavelength ,in nm of a matal if that metal emited an electron with a kinetic enrgy of 6.32*10 ki power minus 19 j illuminated with light that has a frequency of 1.97 *10 ki power 15 hz ? hury up to find answer mehnaz 16/3/2014
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Q7: AN instrument is sensitivity to light packets that carry at least 6.61*10 ki power minus 17 j of energy .how much photones of light of wavelenght of 7.88*10 ki poer minus 6 m can the instrumant detected ? mehnaz 16/3/2014
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Q8: A PHOTON in microwave region of electromagnetic spectrum has energy of 1.28*10 ki power minus 22 j ,calculate wavelength in nm , photone . mehnaz 16/3/2014
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Q9: A PHOTON in microwave region of electromagnetic spectrum has energy of 1.28*10 ki power minus 22 j ,calculate wavelength in nm , photone . mehnaz 16/3/2014
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Q10: A PHOTON in microwave region of electromagnetic spectrum has energy of 1.28*10 ki power minus 22 j ,calculate wavelength in nm , photone . mehnaz 16/3/2014
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Q11: in millikan oil drop emperiment , if electric field between plates was of just right magnitude , it would exactly balance weight of drop. suppose a tiny spherical oil droplet of radius 1.6*10 ki power minus 4 cm carries a charge equivalent to one ANUM 16/3/2014
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Q12: in millikan oil drop emperiment , if electric field between plates was of just right magnitude , it would exactly balance weight of drop. suppose a tiny spherical oil droplet of radius 1.6*10 ki power minus 4 cm carries a charge equivalent to one ? ANUM 16/3/2014
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Q13: calculate wavelength of light in nm , illuminate a barium surface if threshold frequncy of barium is 6.07*10 ki power 14 hz and kinetic energy of electron emited is 1.31*10minus 18 j mehnaz 16/3/2014
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Q14: why we use silicon iol in millikan oil drop method experiment mehnaaz 15/3/2014
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Q15: what were the limitations of moseley and millikan moddel of an atom emanuel olunwa 10/2/2014
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Q16: why water drop is not used in millikan oil drop experiment? keshav subedi 26/6/2013
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Q17: application of millikan oil drop experiment khuram nawan 25/2/2013
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Q18: what is the application of millikan oil drop experiment muazma 14/2/2013
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Q19: do u ever feel like a plastic bag driftin thru da millikan oil drop experiemnt shanaynay 20/11/2012
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Q20: what where the achievments of the oil drop experiment and why did he made it for HArry 4/12/2010
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Q21: How milikan oil method help to calculate charge to mass ratio? IZRAM ALI 20/10/2010
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Q22: explain millikan's oil drop method by equation luqman 10/10/2010
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Q23: Why didn't Millikan just hold various oil drops steady within the electric field to calculate the charge on the electron. Wouldn't he be able to neglect air resistance in this case? Siobhan 25/2/2010
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Q24: If the buoyancy of the air was neglected, how big of an error would have been introduced into the calculation of the charge? BOB 21/2/2010
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Q25: why milikan's introduce oil drops instead of electrons beenish 10/2/2010
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Q26: Describe Milikan's experiment due to an atom OLAWALE MATHEW 8/2/2010
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Q27: what are the problems face by milikan during his oil drop experiment at that time? autansh 4/12/2009
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Q28: what is the applications of oil drop experiment? amrit 1/12/2009
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Q29: application of milliken oil drop mehod mukesh 11/10/2009
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Q30: how was this experiment an impact towards atomic theory? C 24/9/2009
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Q31: how Milikan was able to achieve his aim for the experiments? kathlene 15/2/2009
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Q32: how Milikan was able to achieve his aim for the experiments? kathlene 15/2/2009
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Q33: WHY is this so bloody expensive, our school can't afford it :( David 23/1/2009
Ans: You can use the online viewing method, this will enable your school to view animation by paying subscription fee as low as $2
Q34: how do i shot oil particle hurrdurr 12/1/2009
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Q35: Applications of Oil drop experiment Thilini 14/11/2008
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Q36: did the experiment support the theory of electron? patrick 9/11/2008
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Q37: what is the energy of free particle Soh Chai Yin 8/8/2008
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Q38: Define proper time, in accordance with the theory of relativity.(I am asking this Question 2nd time.) Naveed 3/6/2008
Ans: The time measured in the system in which the clock is at rest is called the "proper time". The time measured by an ideal clock that is carried along with a specified particle, and is based on the invariant timelike space-time intervals between points along the particle's trajectory. The time interval measured by an observer in his own reference frame. It is time measured by a single clock between events that occur at the same place as the clock. It depends not only on the events but also on the motion of the clock between the events. An accelerated clock will measure a shorter proper time between two events than a non-accelerated (inertial) clock between the same events. Proper time for an ordinary mechanical clock is recorded by the number of rotations of the hands of the clock.
Q39: Define proper time, in accordance with the theory of relativity. Naveed 23/5/2008
Ans: The time measured in the system in which the clock is at rest is called the "proper time". The time measured by an ideal clock that is carried along with a specified particle, and is based on the invariant timelike space-time intervals between points along the particle's trajectory. The time interval measured by an observer in his own reference frame. It is time measured by a single clock between events that occur at the same place as the clock. It depends not only on the events but also on the motion of the clock between the events. An accelerated clock will measure a shorter proper time between two events than a non-accelerated (inertial) clock between the same events. Proper time for an ordinary mechanical clock is recorded by the number of rotations of the hands of the clock.
Q40: Each time a new drop is injected, the radius can vary over a range of 20%. How much possible change can this cause the mass of the drop? Eddie 11/5/2008
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Q41: what is coupling & uncoupling states abeer 28/3/2008
Ans: Milikan balanced gravity against electric force, thus coupling between gravitational and electromagnetic fields is achieved by Milikan oil drop method, when the mass of “Millikan oil drops” is sufficiently large, then the coupling of the drops to gravitational fields can become large and when the charge of “Millikan oil drops” is sufficiently large, then the coupling of the drops to ectromagnetic fields can become large, also they should be sufficiently rigid and dissipationless (the two most important quantum properties for achieving a high conversion efficiency for gravity-wave antennas.) The drops can form a quantum transducer that converts gravity waves into electromagnetic waves.
Q42: what is the energy of free particle abeer 28/3/2008
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Q43: can not watch full version warunee 17/3/2008
Ans: Hi please send us a mail detailing what happened, we will be glad to provide you with assistance, generally you have to login and then click on full version button on the page to view the animation, that's it. Please do let us know
Q44: why millikan's used oil in his experiment instead of any other liquid. can we use any other liquid, if yes , then what should be the criteria. detailed answer... naveed 4/3/2008
Ans: Milikan had used oil as it has stable physical properties over a wide temperature span; it also has low viscosity, very high water repellency and low surface tension. A liquid fit for forming drops should not freeze nor evaporate during the experiment in other words it should have stable physical properties over a wide temperature span ­40 °C up to 200°C, it should have low viscosity which means it should readily form drops, and low surface tension so that it does not stick to or smear any surface. It should free flowing and easily converted into droplets. Machine oil matched all of these criterions and so it was used.
Q45: how did this experiment affect the Atomic Model Blake 28/2/2008
Ans: The main aim of the experiment was to find the charge on an electron also it re-confirmed that electron was a sub-atomic particle. This did not however point towards any particular atomic model to be the correct one, since the experiment was not conducted with that aim.
Q46: what are there 4 forces acting on the oil drop thabiso 23/2/2008
Ans: The four forces acting on the oil drop are 1) Drag force due to friction of air molecules calculated by stokes law, 2) Gravity – due to the oil drops weight 3) up thrust of air - the mass of air displaced by the oil drop 4) Effect of the electric field that exert a force on the drop.
Q47: what is solvent extraction?define in simple words. anum 7/1/2008
Ans: The separation of materials of different chemical types and solubilities by selective solvent action is called as solvent extraction. This technique depends upon the selective dissolving of one or more constituents of the solution into a suitable immiscible liquid solvent. It is used to refine petroleum products, chemicals, vegetable oils, and vitamins. One type is Liquid-liquid extraction, it is a method to separate compounds based on their relative solubilities in two different immiscible liquids. The basis of dry cleaning is the extraction of dirt and stains by applying a solvent—chlorinated hydrocarbon—that dissolves the stain but not the cloth.
Q48: why the oil particle do not recieve +ve charge? anum 5/1/2008
Ans: When the oil drops are sprayed through a nozzle and collide with air they are mainly negatively charged as air molecules take away the electrons but in the chamber the oil drops frequently collide with the positively charged air molecules to get a positive charge. Hence not all oil drops were negatively charged, infact positively charged oil drops formed an important part of the experiment.
Q49: what are the positive rays? c.b.kangulkar 28/8/2007
Ans: Positive rays or canal rays are observed as pencil of rays when streaming through the holes of perforated cathode in a gas discharge tube in a direction opposite or cathode rays, these were observed by Eugen Goldstein, in 1886 and 16 years later confirmed by Wien as carrying positively charged particles equal in mass to the hydrogen atom. Wien’s particle was later named as proton.
Q50: 10. In what ways is this simulation a simplification of Millikan’s original experiment? sammy 14/6/2007
Ans: This animation explains the concept in a visual manner, it explains Millikan oil drop experiment in a systematic and logical order and we have made efforts to elaborate wherever confusion might exist with tool tips and explanatory animation. Detailed derivations, zoom-in views, explanation supported by animation makes this “simple” and “easy” to understand. We have given an in-depth treatment & through animation made it simple to understand, but have not simplified the experiment in any manner.
Q51: what is significance of E=mc*c sandeep 19/5/2007
Ans: Mass Energy equivalence: In a closed system, the total amount of mass and energy in a remains constant this implies energy can neither be created or destroyed, and in all of its forms, trapped energy exhibits mass. As per relativity mass-energy are inseparable and existence of one without another is infeasible.
Q52: what is physics behind franck hertz experiment? sajjad akhtar 11/5/2007
Ans: The experiment confirmed that electron wont jump to excited state until energy crosses a particular threshold. Reasoned on elastic and inelastic collisions of electrons with the mercury atoms. Prior to 4.9-volt threshold the collisions are elastic (no energy loss) and current rises but it drops at 4.9 (electrons lost their energy to mercury atom, an inelastic collision), KE of electron converts to PE of Hg that emits UV spectral line. Current rises and falls with 4.9 volt increments (threshold)
Q53: Why do electric field not affect some of the drops? Why do some of the drops require negative rather than a positive balancing voltage Richmond 1/5/2007
Ans: Some of the oil drops that fell through the orifice were either not charged or lost their charge in collisions; secondly, gravity and drag force played a role in nullifying the effect of field. A higher negative potential was used to make it move upwards to calculate the value of charge, as keeping the drop stationary was practically very difficult.
Q54: why ac supply provided in balmer series experiment? sajjad akhtar 12/4/2007
Ans: Balmer series experiment uses photomultipliers or light detectors with high detection area and internal amplification. These are made from glass vacuum tube, and typically require 1000 to 2000 volts for proper operation. This amplication is provided by a HV unit. The input power is taken directly from the ac line. The output voltage can be controlled from ±10 to 3000 V. High-Voltage Power provide the noise-free, well-regulated, very stable high voltage necessary for proper operation of devices.
Q55: Which view we are applying electronic or conventional view in case of direction of feild between plates? Aamir Razaq 9/4/2007
Ans: we are applying the conventional view
Q56: what s the composition of silicon oil easyreagent 14/3/2007
Ans: You can use Dow Corning 200 fluid (or DC 200) Silicone Oil – Polydimethlysiloxane, it has stable physical properties over a wide temperature span ­40 °C up to 200°C, it also has low viscosity, very high water repellency, low surface tension.
Q57: why a green circle appear in charge mass ratio experiment even electron can not be seen ikram ullah 20/2/2007
Ans: Electrons strike the fluorescent screen containing phosphor to produce a glow. A phosphor is a substance that exhibits the phenomenon of phosphorescence. For CRT a combination of zinc sulfide with copper or zinc sulfide with silver when excited by electrons, provides strong green or blue glow. So the electrons need not be seen but their presence can be indicated by glow.
Q58: which kind of charge on both plates of capcitors in Millkan oil drop experiment? waseem siddiqui 7/2/2007
Ans: Upper plate positive, bottom plate negative charge. The upper plate also had a hole in it for the droplets to pass through.
Q59: procedure for millikan's oil drop method imran ashraf 7/2/2007
Ans: Set up the apparatus with an airtight chamber and atomizer. Introduce oil droplets in the chamber. Observe the velocity of drops through microscope, calculate terminal velocity establish electric field, note velocity again. Make the drop stationary by changing electric field. Calculate charge on the drop for various voltages. Establish charge is an integral multiple of the smallest integer. Better refer a book for detailed instructions about procedure or why not see our animation ;)
Q60: why we use silicon oil in Millikan oil drop method experiment? waseem siddiqui 7/2/2007
Ans: Silicon oil was used as it is non-volatile but actually it is not good enough mineral oil (Locke watch oil) is better.
Q61: stoke's law Ghulam rasool 7/2/2007
Ans: Please refer to the questions below
Q62: What is stoks law ?What are its limitations ?Please widly explain Nouman bashir 1/2/2007
Ans: Stoke’s law describes the constant settling velocity of a smooth, rigid sphere in a fluid of known density and viscosity n. It is given by V = (2gr˛)(d1-d2)/9n, here r = A radius, lesser than actual radius for a non-spherical particle. Here the frictional drag force (F=6(pi) r n V,) equals the gravitational one. The accuracy for V and F fall for an irregular droplet, as r cannot be determined correctly, also the flow should be laminar or streamline (no exchange of momentum between particles).
Q63: what is terminal velocity?How stoks law involvesin millican experient?what are the limitations of stoks law? Nouman Bashir 1/2/2007
Ans: A falling droplet experiences both drag and gravitational force, when the effect of both nullifies each other, the droplet experiences no net force and falls with uniform velocity called terminal velocity. The drag force here is calculated using stokes law. Stoke’s law drag calculation is inaccurate for irregular shaped particles as their diameter cannot be determined accurately and they rotate and move in a spiral due to moment while falling as force does not act on its center of gravity.
Q64: what is physics s 1/2/2007
Ans: Physics as per wikipedia is the science concerned with the discovery and understanding of the fundamental laws which govern matter, energy, space, and time (Frankly these you could have conserved by researching this question on 126 million links for physics in Google).
Q65: how the electron was able to move around the nucleus continuously with out loosing any energy? suryateja 11/1/2007
Ans: Bohr did a lot of work in this area and proposed quantum energy states where the electron did not lose any energy while rotating this can be understood by models of gravity well (or potential well) exhibited in museums where, in absence of friction, metal balls can rotate at different depths without losing orbit for quite some time. We are shortly releasing an animation on Bohr model and hope that it will explain the concept more clearly.
Q66: how the oildrops become charged? jalpa soni 1/12/2006
Ans: Due to electrostatic effect – when oil drops comes in contact with nozzle or dry air, due to adhesion, forms a chemical bond with them, here they take electrons from them and become negatively charged when they are separated. This charge imbalance causes air to become positively charged. This is the same process by which a comb acquires charge when rubbed on dry hair or in winter when your woolen clothing charge your hand and a spark occurs when you touch a doorknob.
Q67: can you tell me how to make a simple writer abaut oil`s drop experiment taufik 17/11/2006
Ans: Simplicity is tougher than complexity; we know how difficult it is to present science concept in a simple way. Start with wikipedia.org they have wrapped it up in a 1.5 page, other way is to remove all ‘whys’ and just focus on ‘hows’ in your article, whys cause maximum troubles, just report on what happened and leave out the background. It will be simple but I guess you need to provide some explanations which in turn may require details. As a better article provides concise but handy info.
Q68: how did thomson and others defined what is electricity before the discovery of electrons K.S.N.SUHAS 20/9/2006
Ans: Good question. Centuries before Thomson’s electron came, electricity was defined as flow of charges both positive and negative by Benjamin Franklin in 1727. Word “electron” was coined by Greeks in 600 BC. Volta, Edison, Ohm, Henry and other scientist were comfortable with the concept of charges. In fact electricity is incorrectly thought to be a flow of electrons even today, it is a flow of ions in batteries, electrons in metals, while two way flows in the sky, our body, air cleaners etc.
Q69: How can I create positive or negative charge to a solid surface in a low cost ? R.Kannan 1/8/2006
Ans: Low cost is a constraining factor, for any solid surface a charge can be induced or introduced by either rubbing it or inducing it with another object .For example, when a glass rod is rubbed with silk, electrons will move from glass to silk leaving the glass rod positively charged while the silk wrap negatively charged, electrostatic induction can also be used by bringing a charged rod near the object. Does this answer your question?
Q70: How can I create positive or negative charge to a falliing liquid drop in a low cost ? R.Kannan 1/8/2006
Ans: We are quite lost out on the low cost part, a charge on the drop can be created by ionising air through which the drop falls, this can be done by electrodes (costly) or by laser of around 100 W (not cheap), or by ioniser releasing ions (again not cheap).
Q71: how can we find terminal velocity? M Khizar Abbas 24/6/2006
Ans: Without applying an electric field note down the time and measure the distance between any two gradations in the eyepiece of the microscope


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