Published: Sun, July 16, 2017
Research | By Elizabeth Houston

Maryam Mirzakhani, First Woman To Win Math's Highest Honor, Dies At 40

Maryam Mirzakhani, First Woman To Win Math's Highest Honor, Dies At 40

The award was established in 1936.

"This isn't the kind of thing you do to win at pool, but it's the kind of thing you do to win a Fields Medal", University of Wisconsin professor Jordan Ellenberg wrote in a Slate article in 2014. She became a professor at Stanford University in 2008.

Mirzakhani, 40, was the first woman in the world and the first Iranian to be awarded the prestigious Fields Medal.

Mirzakhani was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, and after fiercely batting this awful disease for four years, she died on July 15, 2017.

Mirzakhani said mathematics made her feel like a detective.

Firouz Naderi, a retired NASA scientist and former director of the space agency's Solar System Exploration Program, announced her passing on his personal Instagram account. "Maryam was a brilliant mathematical theorist, and also a humble person who accepted honors only with the hope that it might encourage others to follow her math".

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In a tweet, Gary Lewis, UN Resident Coordinator for the Islamic Republic of Iran, also expressed his sorrow over Mirzakhani's death. In 1995, she notched a flawless score and two gold medals.

"It's like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out", she added. "That was the case starting with her thesis work, which generated several papers in all the top journals. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife".

Mirzakhani studied mathematics in Iran and earned a PhD degree from Harvard in 2004. It has been hailed as "the beginning of a new era" in mathematics and "a titanic work".

Zahra Ahmadipour, the head of Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization (ICHTO), referred to Mirzakhani as a spiritual heritage of the Iranian nation and a genius who solved the "equation of life", rushing to meet her Creator.

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, an associate professor at Stanford University, and daughter Anahita.

Editor's note: A high-res photo of Maryam Mirzakhani is available here.

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