Maryam Mirzakhani: first female Fields Medal winner

Being awarded the Fields Medal, which is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Mathematics, is the highest professional honor for mathematicians. This prestigious international award is given every four years to mathematicians under the age of 40. Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian mathematician, was the first woman to reach the pinnacle of math and the only female to win this prestigious prize until now. Her achievements are absolutely astounding, linking geometry and dynamics together [1].

Maryam was born on 12th May 1977 in Tehran, Iran. Interestingly, as a child, she was very keen on reading novels as well as making up stories, and she thought she would be a writer. But she soon got highly interested in mathematics [3]. She could obtain a gold medal at the International Mathematical Olympiad in 1994, scoring 41 out of 42 [2,3]. In the following year, she earned another gold medal at this competition with a perfect score [2,3]. In 1999, Maryam obtained her B.Sc. degree in mathematics from the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. Then, she pursued her Ph.D. program at Harvard University. Her Ph.D. thesis is considered a masterpiece and led to three papers in top journals in mathematics.

Maryam became a research fellow of the Clay Mathematics Institute and a professor at Princeton University in 2004. Five years later, she continued her career at the Department of Mathematics of Stanford University. Her research was mainly focused on the theory of modular spaces of Riemann surfaces. She also contributed enormously to the fields of hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry. Finally, Maryam made history in 2014 and became the first woman and the first Iranian awarded a Fields Medal.

Unfortunately, this young female mathematician was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 and passed away on 14th July 2017 at the age of 40. The mathematics community lost one of the brightest stars, a woman who could inspire many people, particularly all the girls, to follow their dreams to succeed. It is worthwhile to mention that the International Council for Science declared Maryam Mirzakhani’s birthday, 12 May, as International Women in Mathematics Day in respect of her memory.

Header Image: Fields Medal, Maryam Mirzakhani

This article was written by Mahdieh Mosayebias part of an ongoing series of scientific communications written and curated by BioTrib’s Early Stage Researchers.

Mahdieh is researching the Design of Self Lubricating Prothesis at ETH Zurich, Switzerland.