First woman to win prestigious Fields Medal dies

Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics, died Saturday, July 15, 2017 after a lengthy battle with breast cancer, according to multiple news sources.

She earned her doctorate at Harvard University and taught at Stanford University.

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband and daughter.

Mirzakhani, who described herself as a slow mathematician, was drawn to big, hard questions in her field, a trait that made her a revered figure within the mathematics community.

Mirzakhani, who was born in Iran, won the quadrennial Fields Medal in 2014, the most esteemed award in mathematics that some say is equivalent to the Nobel Prize and was first awarded in 1936.

Echoing similar view, Mirzakhani's friend from NASA, Firouz Naderi, said, "A light was turned off today".

"A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife", he added in a subsequent post. "I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path".

Firouz Naderi’s post in Instagram in reaction to Mirzakhani’s death
Firouz Naderi’s post in Instagram in reaction to Mirzakhani’s death

The Iran native thrived in study of curved surfaces such as doughnut shapes and amoebas - to a degree that other bright minds in the field dared not explore, her colleagues have said.

Mirzakhani's biggest acclomplishment came in 2014, as she became the first woman to ever win the Fields Medal for her work on complex geometry and dynamical systems.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Mirzakhani's "doleful passing" has caused "great sorrow", state media reported.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif too expressed his condolences in an Instagram post. Her honors include the 2009 Blumenthal Award for the Advancement of Research in Pure Mathematics and the 2013 Satter Prize of the American Mathematical Society.

Stanford University has not responded to a request for comment from Newsweek.

Mirzakhani was also a two-time gold medal victor in the International Mathematical Olympiad, a victor of the 2009 Blumenthal Award for the Advancement of Research in Pure Mathematics and the 2013 Satter Prize of the American Mathematical Society.

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  • Toni Ryan