Dr Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to receive the Fields medal in 2014, dies at 40

Dr Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian mathematician and the only woman to win the prestigious Fields medal in mathematics, has died at the age of 40

Dr Maryam Mirzakhani (Image credit: Courtesy Stanford News Service)

Dr Mirzakhani was one of four winners of the Fields Medal in 2014 which is presented every four years to people aged 40 or younger, and is considered the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

She was awarded for her work on complex geometry and dynamic systems. “Mirzakhani specialized in theoretical mathematics that read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics: moduli spaces, Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry,” an article in the Stanford University news states. “Mastering these approaches allowed Mirzakhani to pursue her fascination for describing the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces – spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas – in as great detail as possible.”

Since the Fields Medal was established in 1936, it has been awarded to 52 men. Maryam Mirzakhani was the first and only woman, and the first Iranian, to receive the award.

Born and brought up in Tehran, she was a member of the Iranian team at the International Mathematical Olympiad at high school. She won a gold medal in the olympiad in 1994 and another the following year with a perfect score. After completing a bachelor’s degree at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran in 1999, she joined Harvard University in the United States, where her thesis advisor was Curtis McMullen, a fellow Fields Medal winner, and obtained her doctorate in 2004. She then became a professor at Princeton University before moving to Stanford University in 2008.

Amongst the many people who have paid tribute to the late mathematician, Stanford University president Marc Tessier-Lavigne declared that: “Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science”.

“The grievous passing of Maryam Mirzakhani, the eminent Iranian and world-renowned mathematician, is very much heart-rending,” Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said in a message that was reported by the Tehran Times.

A tribute to Dr Maryam Mirzakhani can be found in an article published on the Stanford University website on 15 July 2017.