OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of engineering

OSU faculty selected for “Early Career Development” award

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Three researchers in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University have received a Faculty Early Career Development award from the National Science Foundation.

These prestigious five-year grants recognize promising faculty at the beginning of their career for excellence and innovation in both research and teaching.

Raviv Raich, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science, develops methods to analyze complex multi-instance data. Applications include training computers to identify bird species from bird song recordings made in the wild, and improving automated tests of blood samples to detect cancer. The $477,000 award will support undergraduate and graduate students who are helping to develop the methods and algorithms for this research.

Glencora Borradaile, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science, advances mathematical techniques to solve problems such as how to connect wind generators to a power grid. Her research seeks to broaden the scope of information used in algorithms to make them more useful for real-world applications. This $500,000 grant will support research by undergraduates and graduate students, and Borradaile will also involve high school students in learning the fundamentals of discrete math, which is the foundation of her research.

Jeff Nason, an assistant professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, is developing “labeled” nanoparticles that can be detected in complex environmental matrices. This $455,000 award will allow study of the risks associated with nanomaterials and their distribution in the environment.

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Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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Raviv Raich, (541) 737-9862

New companies, research ideas chosen to join OSU Venture Accelerator

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Administrators of the Venture Accelerator at Oregon State University have chosen the first 12 research concepts or spinoff companies to participate in the program, which is designed to spur the creation of new companies from university-based research.

The Venture Accelerator is one component of the Oregon State University Advantage, an educational, research and commercialization initiative begun earlier this year. Officials say it should increase industry investment in OSU research by 50 percent and lead to the creation of 20 new businesses within five years.

With the announcement of its first participants, some of those companies may already be taking shape.

In the future this could lead to innovative types of automobiles, improved heating systems, more efficient solar cells, electricity produced from wastewater, an enhanced online shopping experience or – in a pinch – a safe and efficient caesarian delivery of a baby in small, rural hospitals.

“These concepts and companies are emerging from OSU or the Corvallis community, and we feel good about the commercial potential of all of them,” said John Turner, co-director of the Venture Accelerator Program.

“We think the Venture Accelerator will contribute at all stages of their commercial development and really speed the companies toward success,” Turner said. “It’s also worth noting that we’ve chosen some technologies that are incremental advances in a field, and others may represent breakthroughs of global importance. There’s a place for both in what we’re trying to do in job creation and economic advancement.”

The Venture Accelerator at OSU is designed to identify innovation or research findings that might form the basis for profitable companies, and then streamline their development with the legal, marketing, financial and mentoring needs that turn good ideas into real-world businesses. The approach can be customized to each client’s needs and also allows them to tap into the resource of OSU students who can assist in research and business development.

The new companies and innovations include:

  • Waste2Watergy – A Corvallis startup company to commercialize OSU research on the production of electricity from wastewater, while also treating the wastewater.
  • Valliscor, LLC –Valliscor is a chemical manufacturing company that provides innovative solutions to access compounds for the pharmaceutical, agricultural, polymer and electronics industries.
  • MOVE – Referring to “methane opportunities for vehicle energy,” this company is being developed from research at OSU-Cascades to allow a car that runs on methane to compress its own fuel and be re-fueled from a homeowner’s natural gas supply.
  • Macromolecular structure characterization – This is based on a patent of a new way to solve protein structures that could transform biological research.
  • Heating systems – Devices using microchannel arrays to heat air or water that are small or portable could offer much higher efficiency for residential or other uses.
  • Beet – A solar cell device will be developed based on patented absorber material that allows high conversion efficiency.
  • Multicopter Northwest – This company will develop and sell small helicopter and photographic systems to produce photos or video at an altitude up to 400 feet.
  • PlayPulse – The physiological responses of video game users will be measured to help producers understand user behavior.
  • InforeMed – The company will create serious games for health care education.
  • BuyBott – This online website will simplify shopping and enhance social interaction.
  • Bauer Labs LLC – Technology from the company includes a facilitator for emergency caesarean delivery, a special challenge in rural hospitals.
  • FanTogether – Sports fans will stay connected to their favorite teams or individuals.

The OSU Venture Accelerator is a component of the South Willamette Valley Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or RAIN, which was made possible by recent legislative approval and funding of $3.75 million.

The University of Oregon and OSU, along with the cities of Eugene, Springfield, Albany and Corvallis, are all collaborating in this broad initiative that taps into the research and educational expertise of academia and aggressively moves it toward private economic growth.

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John Turner, 541-737-9219

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Electricity from sewage

Electricity from wastewater

Stone named head of engineering school

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Rob Stone, a professor in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, will lead its School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering after serving as the interim head.

Stone will manage one of the largest engineering schools at OSU, which includes 1,600 undergraduate students, 200 graduate students, 38 full-time faculty and 14 full-time staff.

“Rob is committed to excellence in our academic programs, our research programs, our faculty and students,” said Sandra Woods, dean of OSU’s College of Engineering. “His commitment to OSU and to collaboration is a great benefit to the college and to OSU during this extraordinary period of growth.”  

Stone conducts research in the area of design theory and methodology, design knowledge archival, automated design concept generation, and biologically-inspired engineering design. He earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin in 1997 and joined the faculty at OSU in 2009.

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Thuy Tran, 541-737-6020

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Sandra Woods, 541-737-3601

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Rob Stone

Rob Stone

OSU solar vehicle wins Formula Sun Grand Prix

AUSTIN, Texas – In bright sun and 105-degree heat, the solar vehicle team at Oregon State University drove “The Phoenix” last week to victory in the 2013 Formula Sun Grand Prix competition in Austin, Texas – 193 laps, or 661 miles, around the Circuit of the Americas raceway on nothing but solar energy.

Eleven teams from across North America competed in the closest Formula Sun Grand Prix race in its 13-year history, a three-day race that featured 24 hours of racing time.

The OSU team was followed closely by Illinois State University, with 192 laps, and Iowa State University, with 191 laps, in this “cooperative” racing format, in which teams help others to address problems in the interest of helping every participant do as well as possible.

“The Phoenix had several motor problems this year, but Missouri University of Science and Technology generously lent their spare motor, and OSU was able to make it out on the track,” said Jacob Hamar, co-captain of the team.More motor problems developed later in the race, but Northwestern University offered use of the motor from its car that was unable to race for other reasons. In that cooperative spirit, OSU helped many other teams to create, install and test new solar modules, repair brake systems, identify battery protection concerns and other issues.

Aside from winning the race, the OSU team also received the sportsmanship award for assistance to other teams. Last year the team received the Spirit of the Race award for excellence in engineering, teamwork, and sportsmanship.

OSU plans to compete again next summer in the 2014 American Solar Challenge, which will include both track race and road race competition. More detail on the team is available online at www.osusvt.com

This racing team at OSU helps both undergraduate and graduate students build skills in all aspects of solar vehicle technology. Participating on the team also provides experiences in teamwork, engineering, and business project management.

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Solar race car

Solar car

Antifreeze, cheap materials may lead to low-cost solar energy

The study this story is based on is available in ScholarsArchive@OSU; http://bit.ly/10Zj0SK

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A process combining some comparatively cheap materials and the same antifreeze that keeps an automobile radiator from freezing in cold weather may be the key to making solar cells that cost less and avoid toxic compounds, while further expanding the use of solar energy.

And when perfected, this approach might also cook up the solar cells in a microwave oven similar to the one in most kitchens.

Engineers at Oregon State University have determined that ethylene glycol, commonly used in antifreeze products, can be a low-cost solvent that functions well in a “continuous flow” reactor – an approach to making thin-film solar cells that is easily scaled up for mass production at industrial levels.

The research, just published in Material Letters, a professional journal, also concluded this approach will work with CZTS, or copper zinc tin sulfide, a compound of significant interest for solar cells due to its excellent optical properties and the fact these materials are cheap and environmentally benign.

“The global use of solar energy may be held back if the materials we use to produce solar cells are too expensive or require the use of toxic chemicals in production,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor in the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. “We need technologies that use abundant, inexpensive materials, preferably ones that can be mined in the U.S. This process offers that.”

By contrast, many solar cells today are made with CIGS, or copper indium gallium diselenide. Indium is comparatively rare and costly, and mostly produced in China. Last year, the prices of indium and gallium used in CIGS solar cells were about 275 times higher than the zinc used in CZTS cells.

The technology being developed at OSU uses ethylene glycol in meso-fluidic reactors that can offer precise control of temperature, reaction time, and mass transport to yield better crystalline quality and high uniformity of the nanoparticles that comprise the solar cell – all factors which improve quality control and performance.

This approach is also faster – many companies still use “batch mode” synthesis to produce CIGS nanoparticles, a process that can ultimately take up to a full day, compared to about half an hour with a continuous flow reactor. The additional speed of such reactors will further reduce final costs.

“For large-scale industrial production, all of these factors – cost of materials, speed, quality control – can translate into money,” Herman said. “The approach we’re using should provide high-quality solar cells at a lower cost.”

The performance of CZTS cells right now is lower than that of CIGS, researchers say, but with further research on the use of dopants and additional optimization it should be possible to create solar cell efficiency that is comparable.

This project is one result of work through the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry, a collaborative effort of OSU and five other academic institutions, supported by the National Science Foundation. Funding was provided by Sharp Laboratories of America. The goal is to develop materials and products that are safe, affordable and avoid the use of toxic chemicals or expensive compounds.

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Greg Herman, 541-737-2496

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Solar cell nanoparticles

Solar nanoparticles

New dispatch system could save money for trucking industry, make life easier for drivers

The study this story is based on is available online: http://hdl.handle.net/1957/38433

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University are studying a new approach to organize and route truck transportation that could save millions of dollars, improve the quality of life for thousands of truck drivers and make freight transportation far more efficient.

The findings, published recently in Transportation Research Part E, show the feasibility of the new system. More research is still needed before implementation, but there’s potential to revolutionize the way that truck transportation is handled in the United States and around the world, some experts say.

Loads could be delivered more rapidly, costs could be lowered, and the exhausting experience of some truck drivers who often spend two to three weeks on the road between visits back home might be greatly reduced. This difficult lifestyle often leads them to quit their job as a result.

That turnover problem is sufficiently severe that more long-haul, full-truckload drivers quit every year than there are trucks of that type on the road.

“The perceived quality of life for long-haul truck drivers is poor, and it shouldn’t have to be that way,” said Hector Vergara, an assistant professor in the OSU School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, who is working on this project in collaboration with researchers at the University of Arkansas.

“It will take a transition for companies to see how the approach we are studying can work effectively, but it should help address several of the problems they face,” he said.

In truck transportation, some of the existing approaches include “point to point,” in which one driver stays with a full load all the way to its often-distant destination; “hub and spoke” systems in which less-than-full loads are changed at selected points; and “relay” networks in which the drivers change but the load stays on the truck.

None of these systems by themselves are ideal for long-haul transport. The hub and spoke system is among the most popular with drivers because they get home much more frequently, but it can be costly and inefficient for full-truckload transportation. Relay networks make sense in theory but are difficult to implement.

The new approach under study combines the relay system and the point-to-point system for full-truckload transport. The researchers at OSU developed a new mathematical approach to optimize the design of the dispatching system for the movement of goods and to minimize the impact on drivers. It’s one of the first models of its type to create a mixed-fleet dispatching system at a large scale.

“We now know this approach can work,” Vergara said. “Compared to point-to-point, this system should cut the length of trips a driver makes by about two-thirds, and get drivers back to their homes much more often. We can also keep loads moving while drivers rest, and because of that save significant amounts of money on the number of trucks needed to move a given amount of freight.”

The computer optimization determines the best way to dispatch loads and tells where to locate relay points, and how different loads should be routed through the relay network.

Truck transportation systems will never be perfect, researchers concede, because there are so many variables that can cause unpredictable problems – weather delays, road closures, traffic jams, truck breakdowns, driver illnesses. But the current system, especially for long-haul, point-to-point transport, is already riddled with problems, and significant improvements based on computer optimization should be possible.

Disillusionment with existing approaches led to a shortage of 125,000 truck drivers in 2011, the researchers noted in the study. The negative economic impacts of this system also reach beyond just the trucking industry, they said.

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Hector Vergara, 541-737-0955

Dam construction to reduce greenhouse gases causes ecosystem disruption

The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/14XWxBu

 

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers conclude in a new report that a global push for small hydropower projects, supported by various nations and also the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, may cause unanticipated and potentially significant losses of habitat and biodiversity.

An underlying assumption that small hydropower systems pose fewer ecological concerns than large dams is not universally valid, scientists said in the report. A five-year study, one of the first of its type, concluded that for certain environmental impacts the cumulative damage caused by small dams is worse than their larger counterparts.

The findings were reported by scientists from Oregon State University in the journal Water Resources Research, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

The conclusions were based on studies of the Nu River system in China but are relevant to national energy policies in many nations or regions – India, Turkey, Latin America - that seek to expand hydroelectric power generation. Hydropower is generally favored over coal in many developing areas because it uses a renewable resource and does not contribute to global warming. Also, the social and environmental problems caused by large dam projects have resulted in a recent trend toward increased construction of small dams.

“The Kyoto Protocol, under Clean Development Mechanism, is funding the construction of some of these small hydroelectric projects, with the goal of creating renewable energy that’s not based on fossil fuels,” said Desiree Tullos, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering.

“The energy may be renewable, but this research raises serious questions about whether or not the overall process is sustainable,” Tullos said.

“There is damage to streams, fisheries, wildlife, threatened species and communities,” she said. “Furthermore, the projects are often located in areas where poverty and illiteracy are high. The benefit to these local people is not always clear, as some of the small hydropower stations are connected to the national grid, indicating that the electricity is being sent outside of the local region.

“The result can be profound and unrecognized impacts.”

This study was one of the first of its type to look at the complete range of impacts caused by multiple, small hydroelectric projects, both in a biophysical, ecological and geopolitical basis, and compare them to large dam projects. It focused on the remote Nu River in China’s Yunnan Province, where many small dams producing 50 megawatts of power or less are built on tributaries that fall rapidly out of steep mountains. There are already 750,000 dams in China and about one new dam is being built every day, researchers say.

Among the findings of the report as it relates to this region of China:

  • The cumulative amount of energy produced by small hydroelectric projects can be significant, but so can the ecological concerns they raise in this area known to be a “hotspot” of biological diversity.
  • Per megawatt of energy produced, small tributary dams in some cases can have negative environmental impacts that are many times greater than large, main stem dams.
  • Many dams in China are built as part of a state-mandated policy to “Send Western Energy East” toward the larger population and manufacturing centers.
  • Small dams can have significant impacts on habitat loss when a river’s entire flow is diverted into channels or pipes, leaving large sections of a river with no water at all.
  • Fish, wildlife, water quality and riparian zones are all affected by water diversion, and changes in nearby land use and habitat fragmentation can lead to further species loss.
  • The cumulative effect on habitat diversity can be 100 times larger for small dams than large dams.
  • Policies encouraging more construction of small dams are often developed at the national or international level, but construction and management of the projects happen at the local level.
  • As a result, mitigation actions and governance structures that would limit social and environmental impacts of small hydropower stations are not adequately implemented.

“One of the things we found generally with small dams is that there was much less oversight and governance with the construction, operation and monitoring of small hydropower,” Tullos said. “On the large, main stem dams, people pay attention to what’s going on. On a small hydropower project, no one notices if minimum flows are being maintained. Or if a pump breaks, the hydropower station might sit idle for long periods of time.”

Researchers said the key finding of the research, contrary to prevailing but unvalidated belief, is that “biophysical impacts of small hydropower may exceed those of large hydropower, particular with regard to habitat and hydrologic change.”

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Desiree Tullos, 541-737-2038

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Normal water flow
River with water


Water diverted by dam

River below dam

OSU, industry partnerships draw on student talent

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An increasing number of Oregon companies, both large and small, are taking advantage of the chance to work with Oregon State University engineering students on projects ranging from applied research to product development.

This year many small Oregon companies and startups have teamed up with students on topics such as optimizing solar panel performance or developing devices for the treatment of type-one diabetes. VAL Avionics of Salem, Ore., sponsored a project that resulted in a new navigational system for airplanes that is already on the market.

Such university-industry partnerships sometimes produce a marketable product, and sometimes just improve efficiency or add new capabilities. Inspired Light, a small startup in Corvallis, Ore., sponsored a project to store, monitor, and display output from solar panels that will help them more easily monitor the performance of their panels.

“We definitely have gained value that will help us start more quickly this summer on implementation of the final product, where their work will be utilized,” said Jim Dickie, research and development manager at Inspired Light.

Projects range in technical complexity and potential impact. Other examples include:

  • A group of seniors from the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics is working on a heat removal analysis and design for NuScale Power, a Corvallis-based company that is developing small modular reactor designs. The goal is to determine if the NuScale design can withstand Fukushima-type accidents without core damage.
  • Students are creating an “Oregon Ale Trail” Facebook and mobile apps. The goal is an online community that celebrates more than 170 breweries by sharing brewery experiences. As users visit breweries they create their very own ale trail, with a goal of visiting them all.
  • Energy systems engineering students at OSU-Cascades designed a “purge system” to prevent embrittlement of the film in a fuel cell hydrogen generator during loss of power or controlled shutdown for maintenance, thereby significantly extending the life of the materials.
  • Students redesigned a water distribution system to pump irrigation water from the Columbia River to 125-acre circles owned by Madison Farms in eastern Oregon. The computer model and optimized water distribution saved roughly 8 percent of energy use for a growing season, and may be applied for other farm irrigation systems.
  • Students created an ergonomic assessment and scoring tool for truck cabs of the Oregon Department of Transportation to use in purchasing decisions. The tool has been licensed and will be used to justify buying $10 million worth of trucks for herbicide applications.
  • One senior project is developing a membrane that will improve the performance of an integrated sensing catheter used in monitoring blood glucose levels and managing type-one diabetes.

“It’s a win-win model,” said John Parmigiani, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU.

“Students gain real-world engineering and project management experience in a classroom environment,” he said. “Sponsors receive a deliverable that would have otherwise been expensive and/or difficult to obtain. The outcome is a great educational opportunity for students and satisfied sponsors who return to Oregon State for additional projects.”

A new initiative at OSU, the Oregon State University Advantage, is also taking an organized approach to developing more partnerships between OSU business, industry, students and faculty, through such programs as the Venture Accelerator and the Industry Partnering Program.

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Thuy Tran, 541-737-6020

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John Parmigiani, 541-737-7023

New navigation system for airplanes modernizes old technology

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Research at Oregon State University has developed a new airplane navigation system based on concepts that were developed in the 1940s but are still popular and affordable, and it uses new technology to make the system even smaller, simpler and more accurate.

The new product is just one inch tall – half the size of other navigational systems on the market – and should be of special interest for the homebuilt airplane market, its designers say.

It was created by three OSU seniors in electrical and computer engineering and improves UHF-VHF technology. Called the NAV 2000, the system is the newest product for VAL Avionics, an Oregon company that already has several orders pending.

The navigation system receives and processes signals and a separate navigational indicator unit translates the information for the pilot. It’s compatible with several indicator systems including the old-style needle display, and a more modern video display called an electronic flight instrument system.

According to the developers, this approach is more affordable than the use of newer and more expensive GPS technology.

“Much of the equipment that is out there still uses the old analog technology,” said James MacInnes, one of the student designers. “As an aspiring electrical engineer, I felt that we should look at simplifying and improving upon that technology to receive the UHF-VHF signal.”

The system can direct pilots from point-to-point using signals broadcast by airport and other towers, and guide airplanes for landings with existing runway transmitters. The unit conveys both horizontal and vertical information which allows pilots to land even in poor visibility conditions.

 “I’m incredibly impressed with how accurate the students have been able to make this system,” said Jim Harr, president of VAL Avionics. “It's more accurate than anything I've seen.”

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Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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Researchers help threatened wheat crops in Asia

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have helped develop new environmental monitoring technology that will allow farmers thousands of miles away, in west and central Asia, to save millions of dollars while more effectively combatting a pest that is threatening their wheat crops.

Twenty million acres of wheat in parts of Asia and North Africa are threatened by the “Sunn pest,” a bug that can destroy the value of wheat. Speed in confronting this pest is essential – even minor delays in use of pesticides can cut wheat yield by 90 percent, and if just 2-5 percent of the grains have been affected, the entire crop becomes unusable for making bread.

A solution to that problem lies in an unusual collaboration between an entomologist, a rangeland specialist and an OSU computer scientist who are using mobile technology and cloud computing for better management of the devastating pests.

Mustapha El Bouhssini, a senior entomologist for the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, an organization based in Lebanon, learned about research done by Doug Johnson, an OSU professor of rangeland ecology and management, which uses geo-referenced photos of rangelands for environmental monitoring.

“When I heard about the OSU imaging system, I knew immediately we could use this for Sunn pests,” El Bouhssini said. “Because of the Sunn pest, governments treat infested wheat fields with pesticides; $150 million is spent annually on chemical control. But it’s not just the cost that is a concern.

“That’s a lot of pesticide to dump in the environment,” he added. “It kills the bees, and pollutes the water and the environment.”

OSU professor and computer scientist Bechir Hamdaoui joined the project to develop an integrated data acquisition system that could collect and process photos from the field quickly and accurately. Now, smart phones or smart cameras will be used by workers in the field to capture location information and transmit it wirelessly to a remote OSU server for automatic processing.

Decision-makers in places like Turkey and Uzbekistan will be able to find out the number of Sunn pests in their fields and spray only when conditions warrant action. The data collected for pest management can also be examined year-to-year, along with other factors like temperature and weather for prediction modeling.

“We would like to have an impact for these countries where wheat is very important,” Hamdaoui said. “It's an essential part of their lives.”

The researchers expect the technology will expand to many other areas of research and management.

“Already we’ve had people talk to us about other applications such as rust on wheat,” Johnson said. “People are quite interested.”

Media Contact: 

Rachel Robertson, 541-737-7098

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Bechir Hamdaoui, 541-737-9843

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Sunn pest on wheat
Sunn pest


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