Maryam Mirzakhani, First Woman To Win Math's Highest Honor, Dies At 40

Maryam Mirzakhani. Credit Stanford University

Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to receive the Fields Medal for Mathematics, has lost a four-year battle against breast cancer.

Echoing similar view, Mirzakhani's friend from NASA, Firouz Naderi, said, "A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart... gone far too soon", she wrote. Later he twitted: A genius? Yes. "Sad to learn about the passing of #MaryamMirzakhani - the intelligent #Iranian daughter, wife, mother, professor".

The 40-year-old died of breast cancer, which had spread to her bones.

Iranian officials received heavy criticism for not using more recent pictures of Mirzakhani with short, uncovered hair, as she appeared at Fields Medal awarding ceremony.

At the time of her death, she was a professor in the mathematics department at Stanford University. "Her contributions as both a scholar and a role model are significant and enduring, and she will be dearly missed here at Stanford and around the world".

The award recognized her original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces such as spheres. "I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians", Mirzakhani said at the time.

In a 2008 interview with the Clay Mathematics Institute, Mirzakhani was asked to give advice to younger students.

She attended an all-girls high school in Tehran, led by a principal unbowed by the fact that no girl had ever competed for Iran's International Mathematical Olympiad team. But her passion and gift for mathematics eventually won out.

She earned her BSc in mathematics from Iran's Sharif University of Technology in 1999 and her PhD from Harvard University in 2004.

The resulting paper, now more than 200 pages in length, was published in 2013. Kerckhoff is a mathematics professor at Stanford and was one of Mirzakhani's collaborators.

She was survived by her husband Jan Vondrák, a Czech theoretical computer scientist and her colleague at Stanford University and a daughter named Anahita.

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