News / Utah / 
NASA Studying Utah Genius

NASA Studying Utah Genius

Posted - Nov. 3, 2004 at 9:20 p.m.



This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Ed Yeates ReportingHe's a man with an unbelievable photographic mind. Kim Peek's brain was damaged at birth. But he has total recall and is known as a "mega-savant." Now, in an unprecedented study, NASA scientists want to know why this Utah man's genius continues to get better even though he's aging.

In case you've forgotten, Kim Peek was the inspiration for the 1988 academy award winning movie, "Rainman," with Dustin Hoffman. Though the movie is now 16 years old, the real story is only getting better.

Appearing at Salinas High School in Central California, 53-year old Kim Peek still retains his humor, but even more an incredible ability to recall facts and events. Out of seven thousand books he's read over the years, he remembers 95 percent.

Peek: “He had the disease which bears his name, and it finished him off two years later. Lou Gehrig. When did he die? 41.”

Kim can't do simple things like turning on a light or dressing himself because the membrane that allows the right and left hemisphere to talk to each other is missing. Yet in history, sports, music, you name it - his brain borders on genius!

Richard Boyle, NASA-AMES Research Center: “He could be the topic of discussion for 30,000 scientists. He’s that unique.”

And that just may happen. For the first time, NASA scientists, who have special equipment for studying the effects of space travel on humans, can now fuse MRI and CT scans to produce unprecedented views of the brain.

The technology is so advanced now, researchers are going to see detail in Kim's brain like they've never seen before.

As we watched, the Salinas Valley Memorial Medical Center scanned his brain. The images will now be sent to NASA for the in-depth study.

Michael Basse, M.D., Salinas Valley Memorial Medical Center: “I cannot even imagine the depth of what we would see in Kim’s brain that would correlate with his unique abilities.”

Even more unique, Kim's father says his son's abilities appear to be getting better the older he gets.

Francis Peek, Kim's Father: “His memory capabilities have intensified over the years and he just keeps learning more and more and more.”

Richard Boyle: "Trying to unravel how on earth this happens - he's going against the curve on all of it - on everything."

So the study begins while Kim continues amazing those around him. On local radio, a listener throws out his birth date and Utah's savant responds.

Kim Peek: “April 13th, 1954. It was a Tuesday and this year it is a Tuesday. You retire in 2019 on a Saturday.”

But when asked what he thinks of this new research on his brain, Kim puts his hands on my shoulder and laughs.

In addition to the NASA study, the University of Utah may offer Kim a music scholarship. It seems he may also have an innate ability to compose music.

SIGN UP FOR THE KSL.COM NEWSLETTER

Catch up on the top news and features from KSL.com, sent weekly.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast