Published: Sun, July 16, 2017
Worldwide | By Sean Reid

Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman to win top mathematics prize, dies

Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman to win top mathematics prize, dies

"It breaks my heart. gone far too soon", her friend, NASA scientist Firouz Naderi, posted on Instagram. Later he twitted: A genius? Yes. Her young daughter described her mother at work as "painting".

The 40-year-old was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, which had spread to her bone marrow.

Mirzakhani was born in Tehran, Iran, and - by her own estimation - was fortunate to come of age after the Iran-Iraq war when the political, social and economic environment had stabilized enough that she could focus on her studies.

Stanford University in a statement said Mirzakhani was "ambitious, resolute and fearless in the face of problems others would not, or could not, tackle".

"What's so special about Maryam, the thing that really separates her, is the originality in how she puts together these disparate pieces", said Steven Kerckhoff, at the time of her Fields Medal award. Mirzakhani was 37 when in 2014 she became the first woman to win the prize, which was established in 1936 and is equivalent to the Nobel Prize for mathematics.

Mirzakhani got her undergraduate degree at Sharif University of Technology, then moved to the United States, where she went to work on her doctorate at Harvard University.

She was a research fellow at Clay Mathematics Institute from 2004 to 2008 and served as an assistant professor of mathematics at Princeton University.

Firouz Naderi’s post in Instagram in reaction to Mirzakhani’s death
Firouz Naderi’s post in Instagram in reaction to Mirzakhani’s death

Prof Dame Frances Kirwan, a member of the medal selection committee from the University of Oxford, said at the time, "I hope that this award will inspire lots more girls and young women, in this country and around the world, to believe in their own abilities and aim to be the Fields Medallists of the future". "Mirzakhani was the first Iranian woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences previous year, in recognition of her 'distinguished achievement in original research.' She was in good company: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were past honorees".

In 1994, she won the gold medal in the Iranian International Mathematical Olympiad at age 17.

"I find it fascinating that you can look at the same problem from different perspectives and approach it using different methods", she said.

In 2014, she told Quanta Magazine, a science publication, that she thought about mathematics in pictures, doodling her ideas on giant sheets of paper scattered across her office.

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

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, and a daughter, Anahita, the university said.

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