Maryam Mirzakhani, First Woman to Win Fields Medal, Dies at 40

Aaron Brown
July 16, 2017

Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to receive the Fields Medal for mathematics, has died, according to the BBC.

After a long battle with cancer, Professor Mirzakhani succumbed to cancer at the age of 40 at a hospital in the USA on Saturday.

The Fields Medal is awarded every four years to between two and four mathematicians under the age of 40.

In 1999, Mirzakhani earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran.

She said the 2014 award was a great honor.

Mirzakhani, who described herself as a slow mathematician, was drawn to big, hard questions in her field, a trait that made her a revered figure within the mathematics community.

Growing up in Iran, she attended an all-girls high school and gained recognition as a teenager in the 1994 and 1995 competitions of the International Mathematical Olympiad.

In recent years, she worked with Alex Eskin at the University of Chicago to investigate the trajectory of a billiard ball as it bounces around a polygonal table.

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An Iranian origin, Mirzakhani was bestowed with this award in 2014 for her work on complex geometry and dynamical systems. "I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians", Mirzakhani said at the time.

Echoing similar view, Mirzakhani's friend from NASA, Firouz Naderi, said, "A light was turned off today".

Iran's Mehr News Agency cited one of Mirzakhani's relatives as confirming her death on Saturday.

"It is 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 said once. "But also a daughter, a mother and a wife".

As a professor and scholar, Mirzakhani's pictures helped her write stories with her math.

She is survived by husband Jan Vondrák, a Czech theoretical computer scientist, and their daughter Anahita.

Christiane Rousseau, vice president of the International Mathematics Union, said at the time: "It's an extraordinary moment".

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