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

"A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife."

15/07/2017 11:34 PM IST | Updated 16/07/2017 12:02 PM IST
Maryam Mirzakhani/Corbis via Getty Images
Professor Maryam Mirzakhani is the recipient of the 2014 Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics. She is the first woman in the prize's 80-year history to earn the distinction.

Maryam Mirzakhani, the 40-year-old Iranian that won math’s most prestigious prize, died Saturday after a four-year battle with breast cancer, the BBC reported.

Mirzakhani was awarded the Fields Medal ― affectionately referred to as the “Nobel Prize for Mathematics” ― in 2014 for her work on dynamical systems and complex geometry. The award is given out every four years. Mirzakhani was the first woman and first Iranian to receive the honor since its creation in 1936. 

Born in Tehran, Mirzakhani came to the U.S. to attend graduate school at Harvard University. At the time, she had become the first girl named on Iran’s team in the International Mathematical Olympiad and had already won gold medals in the 1990s, NPR reported.

Mirzakhani fought breast cancer for the last four years of her life, which eventually spread to her bone marrow. She died in the U.S.

Iranian-American scientist Firouz Naderi shared his grief on Instagram. 

“A light was turned off today,” he said in a post. “It breaks my heart.”

“A genius? Yes,” Naderi said in another post.” But also a daughter, a mother and a wife.”

In 2008, Mirzakhani joined the faculty of Stanford University, where she served as a professor of mathematics until her death.

“Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science,” Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement published Saturday. “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 path. Her contributions as both a scholar and a role model are significant and enduring, and she will be dearly missed here at Stanford and around the world.”

Mirzakhani said mathematics made her feel like a detective

“It is fun — it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case,” Mirzakhani said after winning the Fields Medal, according to NPR. “I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path.”

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