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Grant Commissioned to Study Man’s Amazing Memory

June 2, 1989

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ A student whose extraordinary memory has enabled him to memorize 35,000 digits of pi - and pick up a few bar bets along the way - is the subject of a $157,000 federal study, a newspaper reported today.

Srinivasan Mahadevan, a graduate student from India at Kansas State University in Manhattan, is trying to become the fourth person to remember the first 100,000 digits to pi, the theoretically infinite computation that measures the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. He has already memorized the first 35,000 digits of pi.

Only three cases of such ability to remember have been documented in 200 years. One of those people became insane when he became unable to forget anything and his reasoning processes drowned in a flood of facts.

To find out what makes Mahadevan tick, the federal government has awarded a $157,000 grant to Kansas State, The Wichita Eagle-Beacon reported.

The answer may shed light on how other people remember things.

″We’re hoping to find insights into the average intelligence, too,″ said Rod Vogl, a graduate assistant in charge of administering tests.

Four students with average memories also are being studied as a control group, and so far they haven’t fared well against Mahadevan. A test involves flashing one number on a screen per second - or speaking one number per second - and seeing how many the students can remember. The average score is seven or eight and anything above 10 is considered exceptional. Mahadevan typically tallies about 38 if he sees the numbers, about 50 if hears them.

Of course, that’s under clinical conditions. Vogl says Mahadevan usually scores much better - as many as 105 - in the friendlier atmosphere of the Manhattan watering holes where he has been known to win some astounding bar bets.

The 30-year-old native of Mangalore, India, thinks heredity and his childhood environment both played significant roles.

″It runs in the family,″ he said. ″My father knows all 37 plays and 150 sonnets of William Shakespeare by heart, so I think there is a genetic basis for it.″

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