Your brain does so much stuff! It makes sure your heart is always pumping and your lungs are breathing — plus it stores all kinds of important information, like your best friend’s birthday or your pet’s favorite kind of treat. But could your brain ever run out of storage space?

In this episode, Molly and cohosts Corinne and Suriya learn all about our mighty memories. They crack the code on brain storage and figure out the science of forgetting! Plus, an unforgettable new mystery sound.

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CORINNE: You're listening to Brains On!

SURIYA: Where we're serious about being curious.

SUBJECT: Brains On! is supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

MOLLY BLOOM: 98, 99, 100. Perfect. 100 fantastically fabulous and fully frosted cupcakes. Now, where did I put those sprinkles?

MARC SANCHEZ: Hey, Molly. What are you doing?

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh. Hey, Marc. I'm making cupcakes for my book club slash pastry party later today. You said you'd bring the book marks slash fruit punch, remember?

MARC SANCHEZ: Of course, not.

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, and did you water Sanden's Venus flytraps like he asked? They were so thirsty, they were burping fly dust.


MOLLY BLOOM: And aren't you supposed to be leading a group session at the Monster Truck Emotional Support Center? Those big wheelies need help with their big feelies.

MARC SANCHEZ: Maybe. I have no idea about any of it, though. My brain's totally full.

MOLLY BLOOM: Wait, what?

MARC SANCHEZ: Yep, 100%. No room in there. Full to the brim. I must have learned too much stuff yesterday. I can't possibly add any duties or information until I delete something.

MOLLY BLOOM: Marc, I'm pretty sure that's not how brains work.

MARC SANCHEZ: Who knows? Not me because I can't process anything new. I'm maxed out. If you need me, I'll just be in the corner staring blankly.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, then. I guess it's no use asking you to help taste test my cupcakes then.

MARC SANCHEZ: What? No, no. I can help. My brain may be full, but my tum-tum has some room, I think.

MOLLY BLOOM: You sure?

MARC SANCHEZ: Oh, yeah. Gimme. [MUNCHING SOUNDS] So good. Too bad I won't remember eating this.


MOLLY BLOOM: You're listening to Brains On! from APM Studios. I'm Molly Bloom. And my cohosts are Suriya and Corinne from Toronto, Canada.


MOLLY BLOOM: Wow, I can tell you two are twins. Thank you so much for being here today. Well, today, we're talking about our amazing brains. And we're answering this question from a listener.

ISAIAH: Hi, my name's Isaiah. And I live in Georgia. My question is, how much stuff can your brain hold?

MOLLY BLOOM: Wow. I love this question. Brains can hold so much stuff, like your memories.

CORINNE: Yeah, or all things you know how to do, like how to ride a bike, or croak like a frog. [MIMICS CROAKING] And our brains also store important details, like our best friend's birthday and their favorite kind of ice cream.

MOLLY BLOOM: Plus, your brain controls your thoughts, and it's what makes sure your heart is pumping and your lungs are breathing.

CORINNE: Busy, busy brains.

SURIYA: So busy.

MOLLY BLOOM: But could your busy brain ever run out of room to store all that important stuff, like a computer that just can't hold any more downloads? We'll find out in a bit. But first, Suriya and Corinne, have you ever thought of how much information can actually fit in your brain? Let's start with you, Suriya.

SURIYA: I think you would have a limit to how much you can fit in your brain, but not-- like, not too much.

MOLLY BLOOM: Corinne, have you ever felt like your brain was too full?

CORINNE: Yeah, when I think about things too much. When I like, overthink of a situation and I just keep on going back to the same situation, that can be very overwhelming sometimes.

MOLLY BLOOM: Do you guys feel like you have good memories? Let's start with you, Corinne.

CORINNE: I feel like for things that happened recently, I have not-- like, a very short memory for that. But-- but for things that can happen-- that happened, like, a pretty long time ago, I think I can remember them pretty well.

MOLLY BLOOM: Interesting.


MOLLY BLOOM: How about you, Suriya? How do you feel your memory is?

SURIYA: I don't really think it's that good. Like, I don't remember a lot of things. Like, even if something happened a few minutes earlier, like, I completely forget that happened.

MOLLY BLOOM: So are there any songs or smells that bring back memories for you?

CORINNE: Yes, the song Whip and Nae Nae. We did a-- we did a dance at someone's 50th anniversary and when we were, like, three. And so we were just-- everybody was just staring at us while we did the whip and nae nae. Now all I can think of when I hear that song is when we did that.

SURIYA: Yeah. And a smell that I, like, think of is, like, when I smell, like, a floral scent, I usually think of, like, my grandmother because she loves that perfume.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's really nice.

SUBJECT: (SINGING) Buh-ba, buh-ba, buh-ba, buh-ba, buh-ba Brains On!

MOLLY BLOOM: To understand how much our brains can hold, let's start with how our brains store information in the first place. But let me start by saying the way our memory works exactly is still kind of mysterious.

CORINNE: Yeah, philosophers, poets, and historians have all struggled to understand it.

SURIYA: And scientists have been baffled by it, too.

MOLLY BLOOM: We're learning new things about how it works all the time, but a lot of it still seems like mystical brain magic. We do know a few things, though. First, memory has to do with cells called neurons.

SURIYA: Cells are what make up all living things.

CORINNE: And neurons are special cells that send and receive information all over your brain.

MOLLY BLOOM: Neurons do a lot of different things in your brain, but one of their jobs is to help make memories.

CORINNE: These cells are super tiny. You need a very powerful microscope to see them.

MOLLY BLOOM: By itself, one teeny tiny neuron can't do much. But luckily, you have a lot of them.

CORINNE: Yeah, about 100 billion of them. That's more than 10 times the number of people living on Earth.

SURIYA: Or about the same number of stars in our galaxy.

MOLLY BLOOM: Right, and neurons work in teams. They do this by sending signals in long chains across the brain. One neuron can send a signal to a bunch of other neurons, then those neurons send signals on to even more neurons.

SURIYA: It's like picture how a bolt of lightning starts as a single line and then splinters and spreads out into lots of other bolts as it heads to Earth.

CORINNE: Or maybe how when water falls on a car windshield, it breaks up into a lot of different little streams as it makes its way down the glass.

MOLLY BLOOM: Right. And it's thanks to these teams of neurons that we can make sense of the world and that we have memories. Let's use an example.


CORINNE: Imagine it's class picture day. Suriya, you're about to get your picture taken. You're super excited.

SURIYA: I've got my favorite shirt on. My hair is looking so good. I even double checked my teeth to be sure there's no spinach in there.

MISS BETH: OK, Suriya. You're up next. Ready?

SURIYA: Yes, Miss Beth.

CORINNE: But then you notice something.

SURIYA: [SNIFFING SOUNDS] Why do I smell like a hot dog? Oh, no, a mustard stain on my favorite shirt. No!

CORINNE: You might be feeling really embarrassed.

SURIYA: I can't take a picture like this. Maybe I can find a jacket. Or maybe if I cover the whole thing in mustard, the stain will just blend in.

CORINNE: But then you notice your classmate Scooter behind you. He's holding something in his hand. And what's that sound?


SCOOTER: This is going to be an epic prank, you guys.

MISS BETH: Scooter, what do you have there?

SCOOTER: Say cheese, Miss Beth.

MISS BETH: Ah! A rat! It's running loose!


CORINNE: People are jumping on desks, chairs are knocked over. And a very large rat scampers right up the photographer's leg.


SCOOTER: Run free, Rattily Portman. Live your best rat life.

MISS BETH: Everyone out. Class pictures are canceled.

SURIYA: [EXHALES DEEPLY] Yes, saved by the rat.


MOLLY BLOOM: Now, as all of that was happening, Suriya's brain was very busy.

CORINNE: It was getting all kinds of information from her senses. She smelled the mustard. [SNIFFING SOUNDS] She heard the rat.


And she saw the class go wild when it ran free.


SURIYA: Not to mention all the feelings-- embarrassed about the mustard stain, curiosity when I heard the rat, and then relief when I realized I wouldn't have to take the class picture.

MOLLY BLOOM: Exactly. The neurons in her brain were working in large teams to process all that information and create a picture in her head of what was going on as it was happening. Each neuron was sending messages to other neurons. Those neurons were then sending messages on to more neurons, and on and on until all these neurons created a big web of active brain cells.

CORINNE: Later, when she tries to remember that day, a lot of neurons will fire it up again.


MISS BETH: Ah! A rat!

MOLLY BLOOM: This recreates parts of the picture she had in her head.

CORINNE: Or as we call it, it creates a memory.

MOLLY BLOOM: Here's where things get really interesting. That memory isn't a physical thing in your brain. There's not a bubble that holds that memory there. It's not like a postcard sitting in there or a disk filled with information. In fact, a lot of scientists think it isn't even stored in the neurons themselves.

CORINNE: They think the memory is stored in the space between the neurons.

SURIYA: In the tiny gaps between where one neuron ends and the next one starts.

MOLLY BLOOM: When a strong memory is made, the connection between different neurons across this tiny gap gets stronger. The more you think about the memory, the stronger this connection gets.

CORINNE: Kind of like if you walked a path in the woods over and over again. It would get deeper and more worn in.

SURIYA: And scientists think the more unique a memory is, and the more emotion tied to it, the stronger those connections between the neurons will be.

MOLLY BLOOM: Later on, different things might bring this memory back.

CORINNE: Like, if it's picture day again, or you see a mouse.

SURIYA: Or if someone offers you mustard.

MOLLY BLOOM: Once again, your neurons will fire up that big network and bring that day back to life. Your brain is doing something similar when you remember things like phone numbers or names.

CORINNE: But you might have to try harder to remember these things because they're not as unique as a mouse prank getting class picture day canceled.

SURIYA: There's a lot more to memory. And scientists are still trying to figure out all the different ways it works. But those are the basics

MOLLY BLOOM: It's a lot to remember. But don't worry, your neurons are always on the job. Oh, speaking of putting our brains to work, it's time for the--

SUBJECT: (WHISPERING) Mystery sound.

MOLLY BLOOM: You guys ready?



MOLLY BLOOM: OK, here it is.


All right, Corinne and Suriya. What do you think?

CORINNE: I think it sounds like sandpaper, like, rubbing up against something.

SURIYA: Yeah, that's what I was going to say.

MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah, that's what it sounded like to me, too. [CHUCKLES]


CORINNE: Or maybe like, a nail file.

MOLLY BLOOM: Mm. All right. Well, we'll have another chance to hear it and guess and hear the answer after the credits.

SURIYA: So stick around.

MOLLY BLOOM: We're working on an episode about prehistoric creatures. We're talking dinosaurs, giant sea scorpions, megalodons, saber-toothed tigers, mammoths. So many cool prehistoric creatures out there. So we want to hear from you. We're asking you to write a haiku dedicated to your favorite prehistoric creature.

As a reminder, haikus are poems that have a special format. They have five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second, and five syllables in the third. A syllable is one beat or sound in a word. The word "song" has one syllable. And the word "fossil" has two syllables. Here's an example-- ancient giants roam. Fossils whisper tales of old. Lost worlds, silent song. So Suriya and Corinne, do you have a haiku for your favorite prehistoric animal?

SURIYA: Well, I made one. And it's kind of simple.

MOLLY BLOOM: I love simple. Let's hear it.

SURIYA: OK. Oh, woolly mammoth. I like your long hair and horns. You are big and strong.

MOLLY BLOOM: Oh, I love that. Simple is beautiful, in my opinion. Listeners, send us your prehistoric haikus at

CORINNE: And while you're there, you can send us mystery sounds, drawings, and questions.

SURIYA: Like this one.

SUBJECT: My question is, why do stars twinkle?

MOLLY BLOOM: Again, that's

CORINNE: And keep listening.

MOLLY BLOOM: This is Brains On! I'm Molly.

SURIYA: I'm Suriya.

CORINNE: And I'm Corinne.

MOLLY BLOOM: Today, we're talking about memory. We've learned that special cells in your brain called neurons take in information and connect to other neurons. They make big networks to help you understand something. Then later, those cells fire up again to help you remember it.

CORINNE: And the more you use those memories, the stronger the connection between the cells gets, making it easier and easier to remember something.

SURIYA: Right, and-- oh, hey, Marc.

MARC SANCHEZ: Oh, hey there, Molly, Suriya, and Corinne. [WHISTLING]

MOLLY BLOOM: Um, we're kind of in the middle of an episode. Did you need something?

MARC SANCHEZ: Maybe. I can't tell because my brain is totally full. I honestly have no idea why I came in here.

MOLLY BLOOM: Funny you should mention that again. We're actually answering a question about that very idea.

CORINNE: Yeah, how much can your brain hold.

SURIYA: And can it actually run out of space?

MARC SANCHEZ: Well, mine did. And it happened yesterday. I had just finished learning all about the physics of pinball machines, which was right after I invented an edible harmonica and memorized the moves for my new dance. I call it the Marc-arena. And suddenly, the old noggin just stopped taking in new information. I couldn't learn anything else. So it must be full.

SURIYA: Sorry to burst your bubble, Marc. But we found out that there's no way your brain can run out of storage space.

MARC SANCHEZ: Wait, really? How's that? I mean, my head is big, but not so big, I can never run out of space.

CORINNE: Yeah, but it's got a lot of neurons. Even if your brain feels full, you definitely have more space in there.

MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah a team of scientists in California actually figured out how much you can fit in your brain.

MARC SANCHEZ: Oh, really? How'd they do that? Did they make people memorize words in the dictionary and see how far they could get?


SURIYA: They used mathematics.

SUBJECT: (SINGING) One, two, three, four, five, six. Mathematics.

SURIYA: To start, they already knew that humans have about 100 billion neurons. And remember those spaces between neurons we talked about?

MOLLY BLOOM: The ones that help make connections between teams of neurons?

SURIYA: Exactly. Humans have about 100 trillion of those. Those are all places where connections or memories can be stored.

CORINNE: On average, each one of those can hold about five bits of information.

MOLLY BLOOM: A bit is a measurement for the smallest amount of information that can be stored on a computer, kind of like how a millimeter measures a tiny distance.

MARC SANCHEZ: Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. One bit on a computer is only a teeny tiny speck of information. I mean, even just typing a single letter on your keyboard, that right there uses more than 5 bits.

SURIYA: Right. But when you multiply those 5 bits times all those spaces between the neurons, remember, you have 100 trillion of those, then it's five times 100 trillion, which makes--

MOLLY BLOOM: About 1 million gigabytes.

SUBJECT: (SINGING) One, two, three, four, five, six. Mathematics.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's how much information scientists think a human brain can hold.

MARC SANCHEZ: Whoa. That's a lot. Psst, Molly, is that a lot?

MOLLY BLOOM: It's a lot.

MARC SANCHEZ: Yeah, that's a lot.

SURIYA: It's the same as $500 billion pages of text.

CORINNE: Or more than 250 million songs.

MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah, you'd have to leave your radio on for almost 2,000 years straight to listen to them all.

MARC SANCHEZ: Wow. So my brain isn't actually at max capacity?

MOLLY BLOOM: Sorry, pal. I think maybe you just need a brain break. Sounds like your brain's been busy, busy, busy.

SURIYA: So busy.

CORINNE: Too busy.

MARC SANCHEZ: OK, if my brain has trillions of connections, maybe I just learned trillions of cool facts and filled them all up, like the capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires. Abraham Lincoln was the only president to ever receive a patent. There are more than 1,300 species of bats in the world. The largest organ in the human body is your skin. The average strawberry has 200 seeds.

MOLLY BLOOM: But Marc, you just learned something new. You learned about the trillions of connections in your brain.

MARC SANCHEZ: Holy macaroni! I guess I did. There's more room in there after all. Well, maybe you're right. Maybe I do need a brain break, or as I like to call it, a nap. I think I'm going to go take one. Bye.


SUBJECT: Brains On!

MOLLY BLOOM: So if our brains can hold so much information, why don't we remember absolutely everything?

CORINNE: Because forgetting is one of our memory's superpowers.

SURIYA: Yeah, just think about it. If you never forgot anything, everyday life would be pretty overwhelming.

MOLLY BLOOM: Your memories would be cluttering your mind all the time. Just imagine.

CORINNE: Hey, Suriya. The bus is here. And don't forget, it's picture day today.

SURIYA: Corinne's wearing a black T-shirt with a ladybug on the front. She wore that T-shirt three weeks ago. I had two donuts for breakfast that morning-- powdered sugar with cinnamon. It was raining that day, and my sneakers got all wet. Then I saw a red bird sitting in a tree at the corner of Maple Street and Burberry. And then--

CORINNE: Hello, Earth to Suriya? The bus is going to leave without us.

SURIYA: Oh, my gosh. Having that many memories floating around in your brain all the time would be so much to handle.

MOLLY BLOOM: Right. So your brain carefully selects what information to keep and what to forget. Here's an example from our friend Elizabeth Kensinger.

CORINNE: She's a psychology professor at Boston College, who studies emotion and memory.

SURIYA: She says at some point, you probably learned that the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

MOLLY BLOOM: And if someone asks you about it, you can probably remember that fact, even if you don't remember where you learned it.

ELIZABETH KENSINGER: And let's say that's something that you first heard your second grade teacher say. And then later on, you read about it in a book. And then maybe later on, you watched a video about being in Paris. It's actually really good that you've probably forgotten a lot of those times that you encountered the information that helped you know where the Eiffel Tower is. And so now, when someone says, where is the Eiffel Tower? You can just say, oh, I know that answer. It's in Paris.

MOLLY BLOOM: She says if you had to recall every time you learned that the Eiffel Tower in Paris just to tell someone where it is, your brain would be wasting a lot of energy.

CORINNE: Yeah, it's much easier to forget the details and just remember the fact.

SURIYA: The same goes for our memories about our daily lives.

MOLLY BLOOM: Even though our brains can hold so much information, we don't need to remember every single detail about every day. Forgetting helps us clear out extra information from our brains that we don't need so we remember important things quickly and easily.

CORINNE: That's why forgetting is one of our brains' superpowers.

SUBJECT: Brains On! On! On!

MOLLY BLOOM: OK, so we know our brains really do have a lot of room. But we also need to forget things so we're not overwhelmed by memories.

SURIYA: But what if there are things, where we're having trouble getting them to stick in our brains?

MOLLY BLOOM: Well, luckily, Brains On! producer Nico Gonzalez Wisler has some quick tips to share with us.

NICO GONZALEZ WISLER: That's right. One big reason why we forget things is that we're distracted. We never give our brains a chance to remember a certain thing because we're thinking about something else. This happens to me a lot when I put things down around my house, and then I can't find them later.

So I've been trying to really pay attention in these moments. Like, when I take my glasses off, I stop and say to myself, OK, I'm putting my glasses on my desk. That way, I can find them when I need them. If you have something bigger to remember, like a whole list of spelling words, or something further away, like that your pet snake's birthday is the Saturday after next, scientists have found that writing by hand, like, with pen and paper, actually helps strengthen those memory pathways between your neurons.

And here's another way to jump-start your memory, make sure you're getting enough sleep. Sleeping gives our brains time to store and organize all of our memories, which makes them easier to find later. So if you're trying to decide whether you should keep studying for your history test or go to bed on time, choose bed. You should get some sleep.

MOLLY BLOOM: Thanks, Nico. Don't forget your glasses.

NICO GONZALEZ WISLER: Oh. Thanks, Molly. Bye, pals.

CORINNE: Another way to remember things is to use a song or a rhyme.

SURIYA: Yeah, scientists have found that listening to and singing music can turn on parts of the brain that help you remember stuff.

MOLLY BLOOM: We asked you what kinds of songs or rhymes you use to remember things, and you sent in some great ones.

MIKAELA: Hi, my name is Mikaela. I'm nine years old. And I live in Factoryville, Pennsylvania. This is my song to help me remember the word "to be."

(SINGING) And, is, are, was, were. Be, being, been. These are the forms of the word "to be." And this is not the end. Am, is, are, was, were. Be, being, been. These are the forms of the word "to be." And now, our song must end.

JULIE: Hi, my name is Julie. And I'm eight years old. And I'm singing the days of the week.

(SINGING) There's Sunday and there's Monday. There's Tuesday and there's Wednesday. There's Thursday and there's Friday. And then, come Saturday, days of the week, clap, clap. Days of the week, clap, clap. Days of the week, days of the week, days of the week. Clap, clap.

ABBY: This is the song that I use to remember all the states in the US.

(SINGING) Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana.

ANNIE: This is a song I use to remember the seven times tables.

(SINGING) 7, 14, 21, 28, and 35. 42, and 49, and 56.

BENNY: Hi, I'm Benny. And I'm nine years old. And I'm from Minneapolis, Minnesota. And I remember cardinal directions by saying, never eat soggy waffles.

CHARLOTTE: Mine is about the months of the year.

(SINGING) January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.

ELLIOTT: My name's Elliott. And I'm from Vermont. And this is a song to help me remember how to brush my teeth.

(SINGING) A, B, C, D. Brush my teeth just before you go to sleep. Up and down and side to side. Stick my tongue out. Open wide. Swish some water. Rinse. Repeat. That is how I brush my teeth.

MOLLY BLOOM: Thank you to Mikaela, Julie, Abby, Annie, Benny, Charlotte, and Elliott for sending in those great ways to help us remember.


Our brain has billions of special cells called neurons. And scientists think memories are stored in the tiny gaps between these neurons.

CORINNE: Our brains have a lot of storage space. There's no danger of them getting too full. Scientists think they can hold about 1 million gigabytes of information.

MOLLY BLOOM: But even though they can fit so much, we don't remember everything.

CORINNE: We need to forget things so our brains don't get overloaded with too much information.

SURIYA: But sometimes, we forget things we really want to remember. Luckily, there are things you can do to help yourself hold on to the information you want.

MOLLY BLOOM: That's it for this episode of Brains On!

CORINNE: This episode was written by Nico Gonzalez Wisler, Shahla Farzan, and Rosie Dupont. With production help from Molly Bloom, [? Arone ?] [? Waldus ?] [? Lassi, ?] Anna Goldfield, Ruby Guthrie, Anna Weggel, Molly Quinlan Artwick, and Marc Sanchez.

MOLLY BLOOM: It was edited by Sanden Totten and sound designed by Rachel Brees. We had engineering help from Derek Ramirez. Beth Perlman is our executive producer. The executives in charge of APM Studios are Chandra Kavati, Alex Schaffert, and Joanne Griffith. Special thanks to Vicky Kreckler and Coco.

SURIYA: Brains On! is a non-profit public radio program.

MOLLY BLOOM: There are lots of ways to support the show. Head to

CORINNE: While you're there, you can subscribe to our Smarty Pass, where you can listen to ad-free episodes and super special bonus content.

MOLLY BLOOM: And you can submit your questions and fan art. We love getting fan art from you. OK, Corinne and Suriya, are you ready to listen to that mystery sound again?



MOLLY BLOOM: OK, here it is again.


Hmm, new thoughts, new thoughts. What do we think?

CORINNE: I think it might be, like, someone sanding like, the floor or, like, yeah, maybe a piece of wood. Because I think it's a little bit too aggressive to sand your nails like that.

MOLLY BLOOM: [CHUCKLES] Are you both on the same page? Do you both agree?


CORINNE: Yeah, I think it's sandpaper.

MOLLY BLOOM: All right. Ready for the answer?


MOLLY BLOOM: OK, here's the answer.

EVA: My name is Eva. And that was the sound of me brushing my teeth. Ooh!



MOLLY BLOOM: [CHUCKLES] I totally thought it was sanding, too.

CORINNE: A little aggressive.

MOLLY BLOOM: OK. You know, that's some very, very intense brushing.


MOLLY BLOOM: Those teeth are very clean. What's your brushing technique like?

SURIYA: Like, I do it pretty gentle, not that-- not that hard. [CHUCKLES]


MOLLY BLOOM: Not that hard?


MOLLY BLOOM: Yeah, I totally thought it was nails because I go hard on my nails. So I was like, oh, yeah. That's definitely someone doing their nails.


Now, it's time for the Brains Honor Roll. These are the incredible kids who keep the show going with their questions, ideas, mystery sounds, drawings, and high-fives.


SUBJECT: Brains honor roll.

MOLLY BLOOM: We'll be back next week with more answers to your questions.

CORINNE AND SURIYA: Thanks for listening.

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