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  • richardmitnick 3:04 pm on August 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Diamonds of the NWT, U Alberta   

    From U Alberta: “New research shows seawater involved in making diamonds beneath NWT” 

    U Alberta bloc

    University of Alberta

    August 18, 2015
    Kristy Condon

    1
    Diamond with a gem-quality core and fluid-rich “coat”. The coat contains millions of tiny fluid inclusions that trap pristine brine from 200 km depth. (Photo credit: Anetta Banas)

    Some of the rich diamond deposits in the Northwest Territories may have been formed as a result of ancient seawater streaming into the deep roots of the continent, transported by plate tectonics, suggests new research from an international team of scientists in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

    2
    The tectonic plates of the world were mapped in the second half of the 20th century.

    The discovery further highlights the role played by plate tectonics in “recycling” surface materials into deep parts of the earth, building on the groundbreaking discovery by a University of Alberta team last year of vast quantities of water trapped more than 500 kilometres underground.

    “With the ringwoodite discovery, we showed there is a lot of water trapped in really deep parts of the Earth, which probably all came from recycling ocean water,” explains Graham Pearson, professor in the U of A’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Arctic Resources. “This new study really highlights that process—it clearly demonstrates that ocean water in this case has been subducted via an old oceanic slab into a slightly shallower but still very deep part of the Earth. From there it has pumped that brine into the bottom of the root beneath the Northwest Territories, and it’s made the diamonds.”

    Ugly diamonds are a researcher’s best friend

    The Northwest Territories is home to rich deposits of high-quality gem diamonds as well as so-called “low-quality” diamonds, which are covered in a coat of cloudy material. “They’re kind of ugly things,” laughs Pearson. “But all the most interesting diamonds are.”

    All diamonds are formed from fluids, but only these less attractive coated stones still contain traces of their scientifically valuable source fluids. “[The fluids in the coats] are sky-high in sodium and potassium and chlorine, and it’s very difficult to get that stuff from the Earth’s normal mantle,” says Pearson. “It’s a big mystery—where does that come from? Well, we can show that maybe the most sensible place for it to come from is seawater, which is basically a sodium chloride solution.”

    Pearson notes that this captive seawater likely became trapped in a massive slab of the Earth’s oceanic crust that was subducted beneath North America some hundreds of millions of years ago. The interaction of these seawater brines with the overlying mantle rocks produced a chemically diverse range of fluids from which diamonds crystallized, and could then be carried back to the Earth’s surface via an erupting host volcanic rock known as a kimberlite. These fluid-rich diamonds provide scientists with the most pristine examples of deep Earth fluids—from around 200 km beneath Earth’s surface.

    “The beauty of the diamond is that because it’s such a robust capsule, it protects the material that it trapped at that depth from any subsequent change,” says Pearson. “It literally carries pristine bits of material from right where it came from, essentially unchanged.”

    2
    Schematic model of subduction of oceanic crust altered by seawater and the infiltration of brines into the base of the deep continental root beneath NWT, Canada, to make fluid-rich diamonds.

    New facets of understanding

    Although high-quality gem diamonds are normally estimated to have been formed three billion to 3.5 billion years ago, these poor-quality, fluid-rich diamonds appear to be just a few hundred million years old—significantly younger in the Earth’s geological timeline. One theory to explain this age difference is that the two types of diamonds are actually formed by similar processes, and then over time the fluid-rich stones transform into the gem diamonds. Pearson and his team plan to do further studies on the fluids found in these diamonds to test this model.

    “What we appear to be finding more and more is that the standard model that used to be around—diamonds are only formed in very ancient times, 3.5 billion years ago, by a very specific process—is not true,” says Pearson. “There are more processes that form diamonds at a whole range of different times than we thought possible.”

    Understanding more about how diamonds form can shape exploration models of how to find them, offering clues to help locate further deposits. Canada is the world’s third-highest diamond producer by value, and the majority of the product is retrieved from the Northwest Territories, where mining is a significant contributor to the province’s economy.

    The findings of the study were published in Nature.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    U Alberta Campus

    UAlberta’s daring and innovative spirit inspires faculty and students to advance knowledge through research, seek innovation in teaching and learning, and find new ways to serve the people of Alberta, the nation, and the world.

    The University of Alberta’s has had the vision to be one of the world’s great universities for the public good since its inception. This university is dedicated to the promise made by founding president Henry Marshall Tory that “… knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.”

     
  • richardmitnick 11:32 am on April 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Anthropocene, , Geological Time Scale, U Alberta   

    From The Toronto Star via U Alberta: “Has Earth entered the anthropocene epoch?” 

    U Alberta bloc

    University of Alberta

    (Toronto) star.com
    Toronto Star

    Apr 14 2015
    Robin Levinson King

    Two recent papers argue over when the anthropocene began and if it should become an official geological time period.

    1
    Did the anthropocene epoch start here? Visitors assemble, April 4, 2015, at the White Sands Missile Range newly opened Trinity Site for an open house commemorating the 70th anniversary of the first atomic test there on July 16, 1945.

    Death and rebirth are the bookends of time.

    For over 4.5 billion years, each day on Earth has begun the same way: with the rising of the sun.

    But earth scientists look for greater changes, choosing great extinctions or periods of evolution to mark the passing of one geological period into another.

    Our destiny, some might argue, first began when fish climbed out of the primordial oceans and onto the shore some 400 million years ago during the Paleozoic Era.

    But it was during the Holocene Epoch, after the Pleistocene Ice Ages ended, that humans turned from hunting and gathering to organizing social groups, thus forming the civilizations of the world.

    Some say we are still in the Holocene. But others have begun to wonder if we may now be living in a new epoch, one defined by the environmental consequences of man.

    This new time period, dubbed the anthropocene in 2000 by biologist Eugene F. Stoermer and Nobel-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, it marks the most recent interval of geological time that is characterized by how human activities forever changed the geography and climate of the planet.

    But when, exactly, was that?

    If the anthropocene were to become an official epoch, it would be the first time a geological boundary could be witnessed by scientifically literate human beings.

    But first, scientists must come up with a start date. Some argue it began in the Industrial Revolution, when factories caused an increase in carbon emissions. Others have said it began earlier than that, when agriculture caused widespread deforestation. Still others have argued that it began much more recently, in the second half of the 20th century.

    Alex Wolfe, a professor at University of Alberta, believes that the anthropocene started during the Great Acceleration, a term used by scientists to describe rapid climate change in the last half of the 20th century.

    This is when, Wolfe said, human activity did more than just impact the planet — it actually started to control it.

    Wolfe is in favour of formally recognizing the Anthropocene Epoch. But in order to find an official start date for the epoch, he said, we have to find a “geological horizon.”

    As part of the Anthropocene Working Group, he published a paper in the Quaternary International that argued for a distinct start date: July 16, 1945, the Trinity atomic bomb tests.

    Although that date carries great weight in the pages of human history, he said it was chosen not because it’s a metaphor, but because it can be measured. The bomb and subsequent nuclear fallout has left radioactive footprints in rock formations that will serve as a marker for thousands of years.

    “We’re essentially using the nuclear test as a pageholder for a series of events that represent, in our mind, a transformation of the earth system,” he said.

    But William Ruddiman, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Virginia, thinks it goes back much farther than that.

    “[The atom bomb] is an important marker in human history, but it’s not even close to the whole story,” he said.

    In a paper published in the journal Science, Ruddiman argues that the anthropocene began thousands of years ago, when humans chopped down the forest to make way for agriculture.

    “If you look out from space at the planet, the biggest change that would strike your eyes is that all these green forests have been turned into yellow meadows,” he said.

    Starting the anthropocene in 1945, he said, would be like saying the Wild West was tamed when the Sears Tower was built in Chicago in 1970.

    End of an epoch?

    Right now, the anthropocene is an informal term used to describe a period of time when human impact on the planet became more pervasive. But in 2016, the International Commission on Stratigraphy will meet, and the Anthropocene Working Group hopes to submit a proposal in favour of making the Anthropocene Epoch an official time unit on the Geological Time Scale.

    “Right now anthropocene means different things to different people,” Wolfe said, arguing that it would be more useful if everyone could agree on what it is and when it began.

    “These transformations are apace, they were begun decades ago, and their fingerprint is . . . absolutely pervasive,” he said.

    But Ruddiman said that while he thinks it’s a useful term, he’s against turning the “little a” into a “big-A Anthropocene.”

    “There are lots of important changes that humans have made, and they come in at lots of times and lots of places,” Ruddiman said.

    The current geological time period, the Holocene Epoch, has lasted for 12,000 years. If Wolfe is right, and we’re just 70 years into the Anthropocene Epoch, then we’re really just starting to see what the consequences of human activities will look like for the planet.

    “It’s really just the beginning,” he said.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Alberta Campus

    UAlberta’s daring and innovative spirit inspires faculty and students to advance knowledge through research, seek innovation in teaching and learning, and find new ways to serve the people of Alberta, the nation, and the world.

    The University of Alberta’s has had the vision to be one of the world’s great universities for the public good since its inception. This university is dedicated to the promise made by founding president Henry Marshall Tory that “… knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.”

     
  • richardmitnick 4:03 pm on March 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , U Alberta   

    From U Alberta: “What lies beneath the surface: examining water-borne parasites” 

    U Alberta bloc

    University of Alberta

    March 18, 2015
    Rachel Harper

    Water is essential for life on Earth. It is crucial for environmental and human health, necessary for food and energy security, and indispensable for continued urbanization and industry. One in nine people lacks access to safe water, but what does this mean?

    We often think about getting sick from drinking unsafe water, but what lives in the water can also affect our health. For eight years, University of Alberta researcher Patrick Hanington has been studying parasites that infest water and affect human and animal health locally and internationally.

    Hanington’s research focuses on schistosomiasis.

    Temp 0
    Electron micrograph of a male/female pair of adult schistosomes

    It is one of the world’s widely neglected diseases, yet it is second only to malaria in terms of overall public health impact for parasitic diseases. The disease is caused by parasitic worms called schistosomes that live in specific species of freshwater snails. Infected snails release cercariae, the form of the parasite infectious to humans. When released, the cercariae look for a host and are attracted to human secretions. If people are in nearby water, the cercariae can penetrate through the skin, causing infection.

    “In Canada, the schistosomes that lead to human disease are absent. However, similar parasites that naturally infect other animals can be found within resident snails. Cercariae released from these snails can encounter people in the water, causing what is commonly known as swimmer’s itch. The result is a temporary, itchy rash, which eventually goes away within two to five days,” says Hanington, assistant professor with the School of Public Health. “But in tropical, developing countries where good sanitation is often lacking, three species of schistosome exist that specify in infecting humans. These parasites lead to much more serious health complications.”

    Intestinal schistosomiasis leads to liver and spleen enlargement, intestinal damage and hypertension. Urinary schistosomiasis leads to progressive damage to the bladder, ureters and kidneys. For women, this can also cause lesions in the urinary tract, meaning an infected individual has a greater risk for acquiring or transmitting HIV.

    To further explore schistosomiasis internationally, Hanington is collaborating with William Anyan, a researcher at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research at the University of Ghana. Together, they are building on their combined expertise in the snail stage of the schistosome life cycle. They plan to integrate their research with existing chemotherapy-based control programs in small rural communities in Ghana.

    There, schistosomiasis infection rates are the third highest in Africa, ranging between 10 and 20 per cent prevalence and as high as 40 per cent in the south. In many of the smaller rural communities, infection rates are even higher, sometimes reaching 100 per cent of the children in a community. Often, everyday activities in these communities revolve around water.

    “Local people are in the water every day, whether they are using it for fishing, cleaning, drinking, playing or bathing,” explains Hanington. “Avoiding interactions with water to prevent schistosomiasis is not reasonable. We’ve had to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do to work both with the community and with the environment to improve health and reduce the burden of schistosomiasis?’”

    Hanington and his team are developing tools to estimate the risk of schistosome transmission from snails. They are also evaluating the snail and schistosome population structures. If they are able to understand the rate of transmission and how quickly the schistosomes are reinfecting both people and snails, then they will be better able to tailor control strategies to prevent new infections, avoid reinfection and assist those currently infected.

    Ultimately, the objective is to complement drug administration programs by providing tools for measuring treatment effectiveness and reducing schistosome prevalence in both snails and people.

    Hanington says that his research in Ghana has just scratched the surface, and he is looking forward to further discovery.

    As part of ongoing efforts to build closer relationships with communities and researchers, Anyan was recently invited to the School of Public Health.
    “Health knows no boundaries,” says Hanington. “The more we can collaborate on a common issue, exchange knowledge and assist one another, the more likely we are to have a significant health impact and alleviate human suffering.”

    Interested? You obviously have a computer. You could help to end schistosomiasis by joining the effort at World Community Grid (WCG). The Say No To Schistosomiasis Project could use your unused CPU cycles on this project.

    Schistscreensaver
    Visit the WCG web site, download and install the BOINC software on which it runs, and attach to the project. Your computer will process small packets of data and return them to the project. That is all there is to it. And, you will be helping thousands of other data “crunchers” in this fight.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Alberta Campus

    UAlberta’s daring and innovative spirit inspires faculty and students to advance knowledge through research, seek innovation in teaching and learning, and find new ways to serve the people of Alberta, the nation, and the world.

    The University of Alberta’s has had the vision to be one of the world’s great universities for the public good since its inception. This university is dedicated to the promise made by founding president Henry Marshall Tory that “… knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.”

     
  • richardmitnick 2:22 pm on February 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Deap-3600, U Alberta   

    From U Alberta: “How the heart of a dark-matter detector was built at U Alberta” 

    U Alberta bloc

    University of Alberta

    February 3, 2015
    Suzette Chan

    1
    Aksel Hallin, PhD
    Professor and Canada Research Chair for Astroparticle Physics

    This spring, scientists at SNOLAB will switch on a dark-matter detector that was designed and built at the University of Alberta.

    SNOLAB
    SNOLAB

    The detector, called DEAP-3600, is located in a nickel mine outside of Sudbury, Ont.

    DEAP Dark Matter detector

    The facility is part of SNOLAB, a laboratory operated by a multi-institutional partnership that includes the U of A. DEAP-3600 is designed to capture and observe neutrinos—subatomic particles from the outer reaches of space. Neutrinos provide important clues to the nature of dark matter, which is thought to make up about 27 per cent of the known universe.

    DEAP-3600 will be filled with liquid argon, a substance with which neutrinos can interact. Neutrinos are so small they pass through most material, including the human body, which is bombarded with billions of neutrinos per second.

    There are actually several major components to the DEAP-3600 detector: an outer metal shell, the acrylic vessel that holds the liquid argon, the light guides that direct light into the central core of the detector, and the electronics needed to observe and record the behaviour.

    Aksel Hallin, professor in the Department of Physics and Canada Research Chair in Astroparticle Physics at the U of A, says many parts of DEAP-3600 were designed or made at the U of A. (The DEAP-3600 collaboration is led by Queen’s University and includes the participation of Carleton and Laurentian universities.)

    “We led the design of the acrylic vessel, then procured it and did all the machining of the vessel,” says Hallin. “We developed the process of bonding the light guides to it and purchased the material for the light guides.”

    The light guides were manufactured at TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, of which the U of A is a founding member. Hallin adds, “The electronic signal conditioning boards were designed and built at the University of Alberta and integrated with the system made at TRIUMF.”

    Most recently, Hallin’s group designed and machined flow guides that will ensure the proper circulation of argon. “The simulations of the liquid argon flow guides were done here and were machined in the radon-free lab. “

    Hallin says the work has to be done in a radon-free environment because radon decays quickly into radioactive elements that would interfere with the experiment’s readings of neutrinos. This is especially problematic in the mines, where the bedrock has high levels of radon: “It decays into lead-210, which has a 22-year half-life, and lead-210 decays to radioactive polonium, which has a half-life of 140 days,” says Hallin. “You can’t just wait for it to go away.” The group will transport the flow guides in a vacuum tank to protect it from radon radiation.

    After the flow guides are installed, there will be more on-site testing. Members of Hallin’s group—which includes undergrads, graduate students and post-docs—will be at SNOLAB for the final preparations and the formal start of the experiment.

    “We’re hoping to be online in April,” says Hallin. “We have to coat the inside of the vessel and start to calibrate it.”

    The research collaboration has created a book on the construction of DEAP-3600, showing how it went from a giant ball of acrylic to a cutting-edge dark-matter detector.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Alberta Campus

    UAlberta’s daring and innovative spirit inspires faculty and students to advance knowledge through research, seek innovation in teaching and learning, and find new ways to serve the people of Alberta, the nation, and the world.

    The University of Alberta’s has had the vision to be one of the world’s great universities for the public good since its inception. This university is dedicated to the promise made by founding president Henry Marshall Tory that “… knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.”

     
  • richardmitnick 2:01 pm on February 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , U Alberta   

    From U Alberta: “Allergic drug reactions traced to single protein” 

    U Alberta bloc

    University of Alberta

    February 2, 2015
    Ross Neitz

    Research from UAlberta and Johns Hopkins University points to new strategy to reduce allergic responses to multiple medications.

    2

    Every day in hospitals around the world, patients suffer painful allergic reactions to the medicines they are given. The reactions, known as pseudo-allergies, often cause patients to endure itchiness, swelling and rashes as an unwanted part of their treatment plan. The reactions can be so severe they may stop patients from taking their needed medications and sometimes can even prove fatal. It’s never been shown conclusively what triggers these allergic reactions—until now.

    “We are in the very early stages but we now understand how these pseudo-allergies are happening,” says Marianna Kulka, an adjunct assistant professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology and project group leader with the National Institute for Nanotechnology. “This is a very large step forward in many ways.”

    In a study published in the December edition of the journal Nature, researchers from the U of A’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and Johns Hopkins University identified a single protein as the root cause of allergic reactions to drugs and injections. They are now exploring ways to block the protein and reduce painful side effects caused by the reactions.

    “The drugs currently being used are to treat some very nasty diseases and they’re very effective at that. But side effects are a huge problem. If we can avoid these side effects by finding a way to block this problematic protein, we can really design drugs that are effective and safe,” says Kulka, a co-author on the study.

    In their findings the researchers focused on reactions triggered by medicines prescribed for a number of conditions that range from prostate cancer to diabetes to HIV. These reactions are different from the allergic reactions caused by food or experienced by hay fever sufferers.

    The scientists tested lab models with and without a single protein—named MRGPRB2—on their cells. The lab models without the protein did not suffer negative effects despite being given drugs known to provoke reactions.

    Benjamin McNeil, a post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University and study co-author, says, “It’s fortunate that all of the drugs turn out to trigger a single receptor—it makes that receptor an attractive drug target.”

    The researchers say if a new drug to block the protein receptor could be made, it would lessen the drug side-effects patients currently endure. Kulka believes with time, some painful reactions from medications can be avoided.

    “By understanding how they’re happening we can really help to avoid some of the pitfalls of designing drugs that cause the pseudo-allergies. We’ve got big plans in the future for trying to expand this [research] and better understand how this works.”

    Research funding was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the National Institutes of Health.

    Other authors on the paper are Priyanka Pundir, a post-doctoral fellow with the U of A, and Sonya Meeker, Liang Han, Bradley J. Undem and Xinzhong Dong of Johns Hopkins University.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Alberta Campus

    UAlberta’s daring and innovative spirit inspires faculty and students to advance knowledge through research, seek innovation in teaching and learning, and find new ways to serve the people of Alberta, the nation, and the world.

    The University of Alberta’s has had the vision to be one of the world’s great universities for the public good since its inception. This university is dedicated to the promise made by founding president Henry Marshall Tory that “… knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.”

     
  • richardmitnick 4:23 am on January 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , U Alberta   

    From U Alberta: “Long-necked ‘dragon’ discovered in China “ 

    U Alberta bloc

    University of Alberta

    January 28, 2015
    Kristy Condon

    2
    Artist’s conception of Qijianglong, chased by two carnivorous dinosaurs in southern China 160 million years ago (Illustration: Lida Xing)

    University of Alberta paleontologists including PhD student Tetsuto Miyashita, former master’s student Lida Xing and professor Philip Currie have discovered a new species of a long-necked dinosaur from a skeleton found in China. The findings have been published in a new paper in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

    Qijianglong (pronounced “CHI-jyang-lon”) is about 15 metres long and lived about 160 million years ago in the Late Jurassic. The name means “dragon of Qijiang,” for its discovery near Qijiang City, close to Chongqing. The fossil site was found by construction workers in 2006, and the digging eventually hit a series of large neck vertebrae stretched out in the ground. Incredibly, the head of the dinosaur was still attached.

    “It is rare to find a head and neck of a long-necked dinosaur together because the head is so small and easily detached after the animal dies,” explains Miyashita.

    The new species belongs to a group of dinosaurs called mamenchisaurids, known for their extremely long necks sometimes measuring up to half the length of their bodies. Most sauropods, or long-necked dinosaurs, have necks only about one-third the length of their bodies.

    Unique among mamenchisaurids, Qijianglong had neck vertebrae that were filled with air, making their necks relatively lightweight despite their enormous size. Interlocking joints between the vertebrae also indicate a surprisingly stiff neck that was much more mobile bending vertically than sideways, similar to a construction crane.
    Dino101

    “Qijianglong is a cool animal. If you imagine a big animal that is half neck, you can see that evolution can do quite extraordinary things,” says Miyashita.

    Mamenchisaurids are only found in Asia, but the discovery of Qijianglong reveals that there could be as many differences among mamenchisaurids as there are between long-necked dinosaurs from different continents.

    “Qijianglong shows that long-necked dinosaurs diversified in unique ways in Asia during Jurassic times—something very special was going on in that continent,” says Miyashita. “Nowhere else we can find dinosaurs with longer necks than those in China. The new dinosaur tells us that these extreme species thrived in isolation from the rest of the world.”

    Miyashita believes that mamenchisaurids evolved into many different forms when other long-necked dinosaurs went extinct in Asia. “It is still a mystery why mamenchisaurids did not migrate to other continents,” he says. It is possible that the dinosaurs were once isolated as a result of a large barrier such as a sea, and lost in competition with invading species when the land connection was later restored.

    The Qijianglong skeleton is now housed in a local museum in Qijiang. “China is home to the ancient myths of dragons,” says Miyashita. “I wonder if the ancient Chinese stumbled upon a skeleton of a long-necked dinosaur like Qijianglong and pictured that mythical creature.” – See more at: http://uofa.ualberta.ca/news-and-events/newsarticles/2015/january/long-necked-dragon-discovered-in-china#sthash.ZCpknCAJ.dpuf

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Alberta Campus

    UAlberta’s daring and innovative spirit inspires faculty and students to advance knowledge through research, seek innovation in teaching and learning, and find new ways to serve the people of Alberta, the nation, and the world.

    The University of Alberta’s has had the vision to be one of the world’s great universities for the public good since its inception. This university is dedicated to the promise made by founding president Henry Marshall Tory that “… knowledge shall not be the concern of scholars alone. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal.”

     
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