Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman, Iranian to win Fields Medal dies at 40

SHAFAQNA- Groundbreaking Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to receive the prestigious Fields Medal for mathematics, died on Saturday following a long battle with breast cancer.

The 40-year-old fought the disease for four years and was recently hospitalized in the US as the cancer spread to her bone marrow.

News of her death was confirmed by her relatives. Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, a theoretical computer scientist, and their daughter, Anahita.

Nicknamed the “Nobel Prize for Mathematics,” the Fields Medal is only awarded every four years to between two and four mathematicians under 40.

It was given to Prof. Mirzakhani, an Iranian, in 2014, for her work on complex geometry and dynamical systems.

“A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart… gone far too soon,” her friend, NASA scientist Firouz Naderi, posted on Instagram.

Born in Tehran in 1977, Prof Mirzakhani was brought up in Iran and won two gold medals in the International Mathematical Olympiad as a teenager.

Mirzakhani was a professor at Stanford University’s mathematics department, having graduated from Iran’s Sharif University of Technology in 1999 and earning her PhD in mathematics from Harvard University in 2004.

She made history in 2014 after becoming the first woman, as well as the first Iranian, to win the Fields Medal for her outstanding contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems.

Her receipt of the Fields Medal ended a long wait for women in the mathematics community for the prize, first established in 1936.

Christiane Rousseau, the vice president of the International Mathematics Union, said at the time: “It’s an extraordinary moment. Marie-Curie had Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry at the beginning of the 20th century, but in mathematics this is the first time we have a woman winning the most prestigious prize. This is a celebration for women.”

Prof. Dame Frances Kirwan, a member of the medal selection committee from the University of Oxford, also 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 medalists of the future.”

In a 2008 interview, she said that she had dreamt of being a writer as a child, but later took up math with her elder brother’s encouragement.

She told the American Mathematical Society in 2013, “The situation of women in math is far from ideal. The social barriers for girls who are interested in mathematical sciences might not be lower now than they were when I grew up. And balancing career and family remains a big challenge. It makes most women face difficult decisions which usually compromise their work. However, there has been a lot of progress over the years, and I am sure this trend will continue.”

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