The Fields Medal, often called the Nobel Prize of math, has been awarded this year to Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the prestigious honor in the prize’s 78 years.
“This is a great honor,” said Mirzakhani on the website for Stanford University, where she is a mathematics professor. “I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians. I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”
As a child growing up in Tehran, Iran, Mirzakhani wasn’t always interested in mathematics. She was an avid reader and dreamed of one day becoming a writer. In high school, she discovered that working on math problems and proofs were like “solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case,” fun (yes, fun!) work she wanted to pursue through college and into her career.
She studied math as an undergraduate at Sharif University of Technology in Iran, before beginning a doctorate at Harvard University under the mentorship of another Fields Medal recipient, Curtis McMullen.
Mirzakhani’s math specialty lies in pure mathematics, which involves abstract math concepts and has implications for physics theory. (By contrast, applied mathematics is more often used in engineering and computer science work.) Her Fields Medal award-winning work specifically focuses on her contributions to the understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, such as spheres.
The 37-year-old professor lives in the Bay Area with her husband and 3-year-old daughter. The Fields Medal, first established in 1936, is awarded every four years at the International Congress of Mathematicians, and was awarded this week at a ceremony in Seoul, South Korea.
Discover more about Mirzakhani, in her own words, in the video below.
Image courtesy of Maryam Mirzakhani
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