Maryam Mirzakhani, a Standford University professor who became the only woman to receive the highest honor in mathematics, died on Saturday after a long battle with cancer, according to the university.
She was 40.
The Iranian native made her name in the study of curved surfaces such as amoebas and doughnut shapes. She explored these in depth and to a degree that other intelligent minds in the field didn’t dare to explore, according to her colleagues.
She became the first woman to receive the Fields Medal in 2014, which is the highest honor in mathematics and widely considered to be equal in reputation to the Nobel Prize.
The Fields Medal is only presented to two people every four years. It was first awarded in 1936 and every recipient before Mirazkhani were men.
Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne had this to say:
“Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science.”
A stunning achievement
When Mirzakhani won the prize in 2014, the IMU labeled her accomplishments in complex geometric forms such as Riemann surfaces and moduli spaces “stunning”.
“Because of its complexities and inhomogeneity, moduli space has often seemed impossible to work on directly,” the IMU said. “But not to Mirzakhani.”
Mirzakhani had this to say:
“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.”
“I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani said at the time.
Her work could help advance understanding in physics, quantum mechanics and areas outside math, Stanford said in an online news article about her death.
From Iran to California
Mirzakhani became passionate about mathematics while studying in high school in Tehran, Iran’s capital. As a teenager she managed to attain a perfect score in an International Mathematical Olympiads.
She received an undergraduate degree from Sharif University of Technology and then moved to the United States to work on her doctorate at Harvard University.
Before moving to Stanford, she was an assistant professor at Princeton University.
On Twitter, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saluted Mirzakhani:
“Maryam Mirzakhani was a creative scientist and a gracious human being who lifted Iran’s name in the global scientific community,” Rouhani’s account reads. “May she Rest In Peace.”