Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Gaurav Raja can’t explain how he memorized such a big slice of pi.

The 15-year-old from Salem, Va., insists that there is no trick to memorizing 10,980 digits of pi, a feat that makes him the North American record-holder.

He just did it.

“I don’t see anything in my head. It’s just kind of there,” he said yesterday. “It just flows, I guess.”

Gaurav has become a mathematical legend despite being a rising senior at Salem High School.

In an after-school gathering Monday, he broke the 27-year-old North American pi memorization record of 10,625 digits set by David Fiore of Swiftwater, Pa.

Gaurav’s math and computer science teacher Linda Gooding had challenged her students to memorize at least 40 digits of pi.

Gaurav decided to go a step further.

“I found a Web site that had the records, and I decided, ‘Let us try to get a ranking on here,’” he said, referring to the Web site www.pi-world-ranking-list.com.

Gaurav’s achievement puts him among the top 10 in the world. Hiroyuki Goto of Japan set the world record in 1995 by memorizing 42,195 digits of pi.

Pi is roughly equal to 3.14. But Gaurav probably would take exception with that careless numerical shortcut.

Pi, a nonrepeating decimal that has no end, is a mathematical term representing the ratio of a circle’s circumference to the diameter.

Monday’s accomplishment wasn’t totally unexpected. Gaurav said he knew he could break the North American record.

“I felt fairly confident because I had practiced the last couple days and hadn’t messed up,” he said.

At an early age, Gaurav stood out among his peers. Gaurav’s father, Jogesh Raja, said kindergarten teacher Annette Shupe immediately noticed the boy’s abilities.

“We’re very surprised to see the kind of memory he has,” Mr. Raja said. Miss Shupe “had told us that he was mathematically gifted.”

Gaurav has demonstrated a capability for memorization before. In March, he rattled off 8,784 digits of pi.

One weekend, he memorized the capital of every country in the world, Mr. Raja said. Gaurav’s next project is memorizing the names of all the winners of the Nobel Prize.

Gaurav has taken all the advanced math classes available at Salem High School, and he dual-enrolled at Virginia Western Community College for some classwork.

This fall, he will take classes at Virginia Tech in conjunction with his high-school work.

Computer science is his passion, and he wants to be a video-game programmer.

“He’s a self-motivated boy,” his father said. “He just makes up his own goal, and he goes for it. It’s not like somebody’s telling him to practice.”

Gaurav said his career in memorizing the digits of pi may be finished.

“Pretty much it’s over,” he said. “The next big challenge would be the world record, which is far too many for me to do.”