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J Chem Ed 86, 2009, 1290 1294 .pdf

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Title: Thinking Outside the Classroom: Integrating Field Trips into a First-Year Undergraduate Chemistry Curriculum
Author: Kaya Forest and Sierra Rayne

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In the Classroom

Thinking Outside the Classroom: Integrating Field Trips
into a First-Year Undergraduate Chemistry Curriculum
Kaya Forest*
Department of Chemistry, Okanagan College, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada, V2A 8E1; *kforest@okanagan.bc.ca
Sierra Rayne
Water Treatment Technology Program, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, V2C 5N3

One of the most commonly cited reasons for recent marked
enrollment declines in post-secondary chemistry programs is the
lack of connection between chemical concepts taught in lectures
and their real-world applications (1–3). As a result, students
are unable to relate the chemistry they are studying with their
personal experiences (4–8). Whether this is the sole reason, or
even a major contributing factor, for fewer students continuing
their chemistry education, today’s students learn in a manner
quite different from previous generations. They tend to be highly
visual learners and, seemingly more than students of even just
a few years ago, to be interested in learning concepts that can
be shown to have direct importance to their personal lives or
career goals. While this is by no means universal, there is ample
evidence that this characterization typifies the average student
(2, 9, 10). Much of this work points to the need to connect
what students learn in class with what they see and experience
in their daily lives.
Studies on implementing field trips in elementary- and
secondary-education (4, 11–17) have shown these activities
can have lasting cognitive and sociocultural effects on students.
Much of this research has focused on how pre-visit orientation
and post-visit follow-up generally improves the learning potential of the activity. There is also evidence that many practicing
scientists were, at least in part, encouraged to enter science careers through positive experiences in similar activities as young
students (16, 18).
The first-year university chemistry curriculum provides
the foundations for understanding processes that are encountered in society every day. From the polymers in clothing to the
thermodynamics of driving a car to class, from the chemistry of
soap to the science behind climate change, first-year chemistry
concepts provide a unique perspective on daily routines. Ensuring that these applications of chemistry are described within the
traditional curriculum provides an opportunity to help students
see beyond their everyday experiences and into the world around
them through a chemist’s eyes.
Educators have spent significant time in recent decades trying to address the perceived shortfall of existing post-secondary
curricula by incorporating a variety of strategies into science
lectures and laboratories through projects or assignments (2, 7,
19–21) and laboratories using real samples (5, 22). While there
is a substantial body of work detailing the use of field trips in
pre-university education (2, 12–14), a less robust literature exists that provides examples of field trips that integrate concepts
learned in a university chemistry curriculum ( 22–27, including
several historical short essays on the topic). Of the more recent
literature, Hartman describes a series of upper-level industrial
chemical plant tours integrated into an industrial chemistry
course to motivate a deeper understanding of the chemical industry (23). In a very recent article, Peterman articulates a series

of field trip ideas for nonscience majors wherein he connects
lecture material presented in the course text (8) directly with
relevant local sites (24). The connection of a first-year chemistry
curriculum for science majors to the broader societal impacts of
chemistry on the world and on students’ lives is even more critical if we are to reverse the trend of diminishing student numbers
in university chemistry programs by motivating students to
pursue the discipline.
Despite widespread acknowledgment of the value of field
trips, it is our experience that the actual implementation and use
of field trips within a chemistry curriculum is largely overlooked
by most post-secondary chemistry departments, this despite
their more widespread use in other departments (biology, earth
science, geography) within the same institution. Several successfully implemented field trip ideas at a small college are presented
here to illustrate practical ways of linking what students are
learning in their chemistry lecture to real-world applications.
Activity Examples
Water (or Wastewater) Treatment Plant
The first semester in most two-semester first-year university curricula proceeds from stoichiometry through aqueous
reactions and gas laws. By mid-semester, these topics have been
covered in sufficient detail to provide students with a basic
understanding. At this point, a field trip to the local water (or
wastewater) treatment plant (WTP) is a highly effective way of
cementing these concepts. Numerous processes and procedures
common to most treatment plants employ applications of firstsemester topics.
Many WTPs employ coagulation and flocculation (28) through
the addition of alum, Al2(SO4)3, or iron(III) chloride, FeCl3,

2Al3 (aq) + 3SO42 (aq) + 18H2O(l)


Fe3 (aq) + 3Cl (aq)

to water at elevated pH levels created by adding lime, Ca(OH)2:

Ca2 (aq) + 2OH (aq)
The aluminum or iron ions react with hydroxide to form large
solid, gelatinous particulates (floc) that settle and physically
remove undesirable materials in the water (e.g., bacteria, small
particles, some organic and inorganic contaminants). The
reactions involved in forming floc are based on acid–base and
solubility concepts:


Al3 (aq) + 3OH (aq)

Fe3 (aq) + 3OH (aq)


Journal of Chemical Education  •  Vol. 86  No. 11  November 2009  •  www.JCE.DivCHED.org  •  © Division of Chemical Education 

In the Classroom

The concept of “dosing”, in which WTP operators determine
the quantity of FeCl3, for example, to add based on incoming water flows and a standard equation, is an example of the
stoichiometry of a series of reactions reduced to a simple “plug
in and go” equation. If values are recorded during the tour, the
students can reproduce the equation through simplification of
the stoichiometry used in the process reaction. For example,
during the field trip, the students recorded flow data from the
WTP (21.3 × 106 L/day) and the concentration of iron(III)
chloride required to achieve the desired coagulation (15 mg/L)
in the process. The WTP operator knew he had to add 0.22 kg of
iron(III) chloride every minute so students were able to return to
the classroom and calculate this dosing rate using first-principles
Disinfection of treated water is often accomplished in the
WTP by addition of chlorine gas to destroy pathogenic microorganisms and to maintain a disinfection residual in the water
as it travels through the distribution system. The hypochlorous
acid produced (HOCl) is a strong oxidizer that destroys bacteria
by disrupting the cell membrane through oxidation–reduction
reactions (28).
Cl2(g) + H2O(l)

HOCl(aq) + Cl (aq) + H+(aq)

The concept of unintended and often undesirable side reactions from any chemical reaction can be illustrated using WTP
chemistry. Chlorine gas also has the ability to react with organic
impurities in the water to give harmful products such as chloroform and chloroacetic acid:
3Cl2(g) + 2CH4(aq)

2CHCl3(aq) + 3H2(g)

Cl2(aq) + CH3COOH(aq)

CH2ClCOOH(aq) + HCl(aq)

Many other chemical processes that occur in treatment
plants can be connected to chemistry topics. The addition of sulfur dioxide to remove excess chlorine before release of overflow
water into the environment can be used as an example of a redox
reaction. Charcoal filter beds are used to remove residual solids
as an example of bulk-scale filtration similar to use of activated
charcoal in organic synthesis purification.

Most treatment plants have in-house analytical capabilities
where students can view the instrumentation (Figure 1) used
to measure pH, turbidity (a type of spectrophotometric technique to measure suspended solids), and nitrate, phosphate,
and chlorine residue using colorimetric analyses. Students have
an opportunity to use many of these or similar instruments in
the laboratory throughout the semester and this provides them
with a context for the use of instrumentation in an industrial
Water Quality Sampling
Our department has portable field equipment used primarily to deliver service courses for an environmental monitoring
program, but we also use this equipment to run a field trip-based
laboratory experiment for our first-year chemistry classes. This
laboratory experiment is generally performed shortly after the
WTP field trip to further illustrate the analytes responsible for
characterizing water quality. The experiment involves collecting several liters of water from the local river both upstream
and downstream of the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP)
outfall. Students use portable probes on site to measure conductivity, pH, and temperature, demonstrating the capacity to “take
the lab into the field”. Spectrophotometers and reagent packets
are used to analyze these samples colorimetrically for alkalinity,
hardness, ammonia, nitrate, phosphate, copper, iron, and free
chlorine residue. The upstream and downstream results are
compared to determine the effects of WWTP effluent on water
quality in the local river and lake system, which allows students
to understand the cause of the algal growth visible downstream
of the outfall to the WWTP discharge.
Winery (or Brewery)
By the later part of the second semester in most two-semester
first-year university curricula, students will have been introduced
to kinetics, acid–base chemistry, redox reactions, and organic
chemistry. At this point, a field trip to a winery (or brewery)
is an effective way of illustrating these topics (Figure 1). In addition to the opportunity to view an industrial process, if the
winemaker or brewmaster is willing to take students through the
entire process, applied aspects of kinetics, acid–base chemistry,
redox reactions, organic chemistry, and laboratory analysis can
readily be discussed.

Figure 1. Photographs from first-year chemistry field trips: (left) to a water treatment plant and (right) to a local winery.

© Division of Chemical Education  •  www.JCE.DivCHED.org  •  Vol. 86  No. 11  November 2009  •  Journal of Chemical Education


In the Classroom

In winemaking, the initial grape crushing and subsequent
fermentation steps can be used to illustrate solubility and extraction as the grapes are crushed and juice or entire berries are
placed in large tanks. Kinetics, including rate of reaction and
catalysis, can be described in the fermentation step where winemakers will hold the fermenting tanks at a precise temperature
to ensure optimum flavor extraction, encourage vigorous yet
controlled fermentation, and minimize side reactions. Description of the wine aging process, both in stainless-steel holding
tanks and in oak barrels, allows for an in-depth discussion of
organic functional group conversions (i.e., aldol condensations,
dehydration and hydrolysis, de-aminations) and redox chemistry
(e.g., phenol–quinone equilibria). The process of cold stabilization to remove residual tartaric acid present in a wine just prior
to bottling is discussed as an example of the effect of temperature
on solubility.
The tour also includes a walk through the analytical lab of
the winery. Experiments that occur in the lab of a winery, for
example, include refractometry or density measurements to
determine sugar and alcohol content, acid–base titrations (titratable acidity), and chromatography. As an on-campus follow-up
to the winery tour (Textbox 1), students titrate a wine sample
to determine the concentration of acid (assumed to be tartartic
acid) as part of their more traditional acid–base titration experiment (acetic, phosphoric, and hydrochloric acids with sodium
hydroxide) during the semester.
Agricultural Research Station
Our community has an agricultural research station
(Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) that houses analytical
instrumentation with active research programs on plant, food,
and beverage chemistry. By the end of the first semester, students have been introduced to methods of analysis such as mass
spectrometry, gas–liquid chromatography, and UV–vis and IR
spectroscopy in the context of isotopes, structural conformation,
and bonding. The field trip to the agricultural research station
is a unique chance for students to view such specialized instrumentation (as well as other advanced tools such as scanning and
transmission electron microscopes), in addition to reinforcing


1. Pipet 5 mL of white wine into a 125 mL Erlenmeyer flask.
Add 25 mL deionized (DI) water and monitor the titration
by ~0.1 M NaOH using a pH meter.

2. Pipet 5 mL of white wine into a 125 mL Erlenmeyer flask.
Add 25 mL DI water and three drops of an appropriate
indicator. Titrate with the ~0.1 M NaOH to the end point.

3. Graph your pH meter measured titration and identify the
equivalence and half equivalence points of your wine
sample. Assuming the acid present in the wine sample is
tartaric acid, determine the approximate Ka for tartartic

4. Determine the concentration of acid in the wine sample
using both the graphical method and the titration data.
Compare your results.

Textbox 1. Post winery tour on-campus follow-up wine laboratory


the physical and chemical principles underlying the analytical
method. The opportunity to see advanced instrumentation in
use in a research capacity at such an early stage in their education
can also serve to inspire students to continue on in chemistry as
they see how chemistry is at the heart of scientific exploration
in many different disciplines.
Climate Change
Showing students films such as An Inconvenient Truth and
11th Hour is an effective method of connecting first-year chemistry concepts with popular media. While many students may have
already seen these films, the opportunity exists to extract some of
the fundamental scientific principles behind climate change and
connect it with concepts learned in the curriculum. A discussion
of the film, its claims, and the underlying science in particular
can be used to explore critical thinking skills. The greenhouse
effect, for example, can be used to illustrate electromagnetic
radiation and molecular vibration frequencies. As a way of
introducing economics and the concept of a carbon footprint,
students can calculate the thermodynamics and amount of carbon dioxide released in the use of various existing and proposed
fuels. The “great ocean conveyor”, and in particular the resulting
Gulf Stream, is a fundamental application of density owing to
temperature and salinity.
Pre- and Post-Field Trip Activities
To ensure students obtain the most from their experience,
they were prepared for the field trips through foreshadowing
during lectures when relevant material was being covered, where
attention was drawn to concepts or examples that they would see
during the field trips. For several of the sites attended regularly
(water treatment plant, winery), students were provided with a
several-page handout that outlined the activity with particular
emphasis on the chemical processes they would encounter, some
of the basic chemical reactions involved, and the instrumentation that would be presented. Transportation, timing, and safety
protocols were discussed several classes in advance of the trip and
again just prior to the day of the trip.
While these activities do not result in any form of formal
evaluation, post-trip follow-up was performed via traditional assignment or exam questions that directly related to the activities
undertaken (Textbox 2).
Logistical and Pedagogical Evaluation
In evaluating locations suitable for field trips, several factors
must be considered. Safety at the site is paramount and requires
students be briefed beforehand of any potential hazards. Consideration should be given to a second chaperone, particularly at
sites that pose any substantial hazard. To ensure students obtain
the greatest benefit from the activity, groups should generally be
limited to 20 students, which often restricts this activity either to
small classes or to laboratory sections at larger institutions. Coordination of field trips at larger institutions presents additional
challenges that could be overcome with careful organization
(activities staggered over several sites or over several weeks). The
sites should be chosen that enable the group to be transported to
and from the site (preferably in institutional or faculty vehicles
for insurance purposes) and complete the tour within a 1.5 or 2
hour lecture or 3 hour laboratory time.

Journal of Chemical Education  •  Vol. 86  No. 11  November 2009  •  www.JCE.DivCHED.org  •  © Division of Chemical Education 

In the Classroom

Climate Change and Le Châtelier’s Principle

lactic fermentation of red wine is the conversion of malic

1. In addition to contributing to the greenhouse effect, an in-

acid, C3H5O 3COOH (Ka =  3.98  ×  10–4), to lactic acid,

creasing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is

C2H5OCOOH (Ka = 1.40 × 10–4). Assuming all of the malic

predicted to result in widespread death of coral reefs through

acid is converted to lactic acid, what change in pH will result

acidification of the oceans.

if a 250 L barrel of wine that contains 0.175 M malic acid

H2O(l) + CO2(g)

pH of ocean drops by 0.27 units. Given that coral reefs are
composed of millions of individual polyps with calcium car-

Wine Redox Titrations

content of wine. A wine chemist has a previously prepared

to describe why these animals are susceptible to increased

dichromate solution whose concentration label has gone

carbon dioxide levels.

missing. She can standardize the dichromate solution using

CaCO3(s) + H+(aq)


an acid (H+).

H (aq) + HCO3 (aq)

8H (aq) + Cr2O72−(aq) + 3SO32−(aq)

Ca2+(aq) + HCO3 (aq)

Climate Change and Stoichiometry
2. The largest contributor to your greenhouse gas emission load
is probably your vehicle and its combustion of gasoline. If you

2Cr3+(aq) + 3SO42−(aq) + 4H2O(l)

(a) Identify the species being oxidized and the species being
(b) Determine the concentration of the dichromate solution if a
25.00 mL sample requires 29.63 mL of a 0.1745 M solution

assume gasoline is composed solely of octane (C8H18) that

of HCl to reach the stoichiometric (equivalence) point.

has a density of 0.703 g/mL, determine how many tonnes of
CO2 you emit during a trip to Vancouver (426 km) if your car
gets 7.8 L/100 km (note: 1 tonne = 1000 kg).

Water Treatment Disinfection and Gas Laws

Wine Acid–Base Chemistry

5. Potassium dichromate is often used to determine the alcohol

bonate (CaCO3) shells, use the equilibrium equations given

undergoes complete fermentation to lactic acid?


With a doubling of CO2 concentration, for example, the

4. One of the key reactions that occurs during the malo–

3. A chemist at a local winery needs to decide whether she has
to cold stabilize a barrel of her wine before she bottles it.
Bitartrate, −OOC(C2H4O2)COO−, will precipitate out of wine
as large white crystals of potassium bitartrate if the bitartrate
concentration is greater than 6.0  ×  10–4 M. What initial
concentration of potassium tartrate [HOOC(C2H4O2)COOK,
Ka = 1.5 × 10–5] in the wine will lead to this unwanted precipitation reaction? Determine whether she has to cold stabilize
the wine.

6. One of the most effective chemicals to disinfect drinking water
before release into municipal distribution systems is chlorine
gas. Most municipalities using Cl2 obtain their supplies in
highly pressurized gas cylinders. Using both the ideal gas
law and van der Waals equations, determine whether a new
model of tank (400 L) containing 50 kg chlorine at 25 °C that
is being shipped to you will rupture (if P > 40 atm) and leak
the deadly gas into your warehouse [aCl2 = 6.260 (L2 atm)/
mol2; bCl2 = 0.0530 L/mol]. Explain the difference in pressures obtained using the two equations in terms of the intermolecular forces found in chlorine gas.

Textbox 2. Sample post-activity assignment or exam questions.

Many local industries and municipal infrastructure plants
are eager to provide educational tours and are often willing to
script their tours to the level and expertise of the students. For
example, the local water treatment plant operator will describe
the treatment process and will include the basic chemistry present (name of chemical used, general reaction classification), and
the local winemaker will describe the functional group transformations that occur during fermentation and aging. Students
are encouraged to ask questions and often are able to grasp the
underlying chemical principles at a considerable depth. In addition to the simple act of getting outside of the classroom to
see chemistry in action, many of these field trips make students
aware that an understanding of chemistry is foundational to
careers and occupations they had likely never thought would
require such knowledge. On numerous occasions, students have
expressed astonishment at the depth of chemical knowledge
required by these nonchemistry and sometimes even nonsciencemajor workers.
At least one field trip was incorporated into each semester
of a two-semester first-year course over the last four years. While

some of the timing is at the discretion of the field trip-site personnel, the activities were undertaken in the fall semester before
the middle of October—this allowed sufficient time for students
to acquire the requisite basic knowledge (solution stoichiometry, reaction classifications) and occurred generally before the
weather became too cold. The winter semester followed similar
requirements­—by the middle of March students were familiar
with kinetics, equilibrium, and organic and acid–base chemistry,
and the weather was sufficiently warm to allow for comfortable
outdoor excursions. A second activity was scheduled if sufficient
time remained in the course, generally in the winter semester.
Depending on scheduling of course lecture and laboratory
times, field trips have been organized to occur during both time
slots. These field trips have been run solely as optional activities,
in part to maintain flexibility in the scheduling of the activity
but also because our institution has multiple centers and chemistry sections at other campuses do not engage in similar activities
(as such, it cannot be an official, evaluated component of the
course). Despite being optional, there has been essentially full
attendance by students at each of these activities suggesting that

© Division of Chemical Education  •  www.JCE.DivCHED.org  •  Vol. 86  No. 11  November 2009  •  Journal of Chemical Education


In the Classroom

students are eager to engage in such excursions. Quantitative
research on the beneficial effect of these activities on students’
perception of chemistry, appreciation of the application of
chemistry to the real world, and motivation to continue in the
discipline would be difficult to conduct. However, course evaluations performed by students toward the end of every semester
include, without exception, numerous references to the field
trips (Textbox 3) suggesting, at least qualitatively, the lasting
impact of these activities on students perception of the course.

made me much more interested in the subject to the point
that I want to pursue a career in chemistry.

• Field trips have been great and very relevant.

• Relates the course material to interesting everyday activi-

• The trip to the water treatment plant was incredible. Not

only did I learn that a lot of chemistry goes on to produce
good drinking water, but it was a great break from lecture.

We found the implementation of field trips into the firstyear undergraduate chemistry curriculum to be an excellent
means of reinforcing on-campus lecture and laboratory concepts
in stoichiometry, acid–base reactions and titrations, kinetics, and
redox, organic, and analytical chemistry. With some forethought
and planning, these activities were positioned within the curriculum to serve as a case-study around which several topics
within a semester could be themed and to assist students to make
connections among what they view as unrelated concepts. The
use of foreshadowing helped to pique students’ interest in the
real-world application of curriculum material, and the field trip
itself was a valuable educational tool both as a way of reinforcing
learned material and as a means of allowing students to engage
and explore the topics beyond theory and calculation. The use of
post-activity follow-up in the form of assignment or examination
questions or laboratory exercises allowed the activity to reappear
in a more traditional evaluation setting. In addition to being
an opportunity to expose students to chemical principles in
real-life applications, these field trip activities have also resulted
in stimulating student interest in continuing their chemistry
studies at the second-year level.
The authors would like to thank a number of people for
their participation in these activities: Gerry Neilsen at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Dena Gregoire at Jackson Triggs–
Okanagan Estate; Kelly Symonds at Hillside Estate Winery; and
the staff at the City of Penticton Water Treatment Plant.
Literature Cited
1. de Vos, W.; van Berkel, B.; Verdonk, A. H. J. Chem. Educ. 1994,
71, 743–746.
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Meijer, M. J. Sci. Educ. Technol. 2001, 10, 249–256.
3. Johnstone, A. H. J. Chem. Educ. 1997, 74, 262–268.
4. Donahue, T. P.; Lewis, L. B.; Price, L. F.; Schmidt, D. C. J. Sci.
Educ. Technol. 1998, 7, 15–23.
5. Loyo-Rosales, J. E.; Torrents, A.; Rosales-Rivera, G. C.; Rice, C.
P. J. Chem. Educ. 2006, 83, 248–249.
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7. Stout, R. J. Chem. Educ. 2000, 77, 1301–1302.
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New York, 1999.
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10. Runge, A.; Spiegel, A.; Pytlik, L. M.; Dunbar, S.; Fuller, R.; Sowell,
G.; Brooks, D. J. Sci. Educ. Technol. 1999, 8, 33–44.


• Between the lectures and the great field trips, you have

• Makes chemistry more interesting ... and helps make me

• Referencing “real-life” chemistry in classes and taking us on

• I really liked the field trip to the water treatment plant – I

understand chemistry finally.
field trips helps me learn more than just theory.
have applied to the water quality program for next year.
Thanks for the inspiration!

• Field trips have made chemistry almost freakishly exciting!
When you include how chemistry can be used in the “real
world”, it gives us a greater appreciation for what is being

• The trips relate course material to the real world. Field trips
are awesome!

Textbox 3. Examples of student feedback on course evaluations.


Eshach, H. J. Sci. Educ. Technol. 2006, 16, 171–190.
Kisiel, J. Sci. Educ. 2006, 90, 434–452.
Knapp, D.; Barrie, E. J. Sci. Educ. Technol. 2001, 10, 351–357.
Lucas, K. B. Sci. Educ. 2000, 84, 524–544.
Martin, W.; Falk, J. H.; Balling, J. D. Sci. Educ. 1981, 65, 301–
Rudmann, C. School Sci. and Math. 1994, 94, 138–141.
Orion, N. School Sci. and Math. 1993, 93, 325–331.
Naizer, G. L. School Sci. and Math. 1993, 93, 321–324.
Lee, D. R.; McClurg, F. A.; Nixon, G. A. J. Chem. Educ. 1986,
63, 1065–1066.
Parrill, A. L. J. Chem. Educ. 2000, 77, 1303–1305.
Walczak, M. M. J. Chem. Educ. 2007, 84, 961–966.
Lunsford, S. K.; Speelman, N.; Yeary, A.; Slattery, W. J. Chem.
Educ. 2007, 84, 1027–1030.
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Peterman, K. E. J. Chem. Educ. 2008, 85, 645–649.
Breedlove, C. H. J. Chem. Educ. 1985, 62, 778–779.
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53, 370.
Environmental Engineer’s Handbook, 2nd ed.; Lui, D., Ed.; CRC
Press: Boca Raton, 1999.

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