First woman to win highest maths award dies at 40

Published: July 17, 2017


Maryam Mirzakhani, the first and only woman to receive the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for mathematics, died on Saturday at age 40 after a battle with cancer, said officials at Stanford University, the California school where she taught.

The death of the Tehran-born Mirzakhani, who specialised in theoretical mathematics, came three years after she received the Fields Medal at an event in Seoul.

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The prize is handed out every four years to honor mathematicians under 40 who make major contributions. 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.

The mathematician received the medal for her work in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, Stanford officials said in 2014.

Mirzakhani at the time said she had dreamed of becoming a writer when she was young, before taking an interest in mathematical problems.

“It is fun; it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case,” she said in 2014.

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.

She later graduated from Sharif University in Tehran and then headed to Harvard University in Massachusetts, to obtain her doctorate in mathematics.

Mirzakhani joined the faculty at Stanford in the San Francisco Bay area in 2008.

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. The complexities in the ball’s movement have long bedeviled physicists.

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Mirzakhani, while solving mathematical problems, often drew on large sheets of paper while scribbling formulas on the edges, an approach that her young daughter believed to be a form of painting, according to Stanford.

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, and a daughter, Anahita. A Stanford spokesperson said he did not have any information on where Mirzakhani died.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Sohail Ahmed Siddiqui
    Jul 17, 2017 - 11:12AM

    The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple. She played her part in the field of mathematics no doubt the world will miss her.Recommend

  • genesis
    Jul 17, 2017 - 9:46PM

    As and Iranian and as shia she was brilliant for her age and won the coveted Nobel for Maths.A rare performance but then was possible because she was in US.She would not be given such opportunities in her home landRecommend

  • Fateh Mohammed
    Jul 18, 2017 - 1:40AM

    Maryam Mirzakhani was an outstanding woman mathematician being Iranian and Shia takes the back seat . It means women can outshine what is considered a difficult field of study even by men . We are all human and equal on most measures .Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    Jul 18, 2017 - 7:46AM

    @Sohail Ahmed Siddiqui:
    Maybe. But “simple” is in the mind of the beholder. On the other hand the essence of politics is to make simple things complicated and complicated things simple.Recommend

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