Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian-born mathematician currently working as a professor at Stanford University, has been awarded the 2014 Fields Medal for her outstanding contributions to geometry and dynamical systems. Mirzakhani has become the first woman to win the prize, widely regarded as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in the field of mathematics, since it was first awarded in 1936.
The Fields Medal, officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, was awarded to Mirzakhani by the International Mathematical Union, or IMU, on Wednesday at the International Congress of Mathematicians, in Seoul. Established by Canadian mathematician John Fields, the award includes a cash prize of 8,000 pounds or nearly $13, 500, BBC News reported. The award is given away every four years to mathematicians under the age of 40.
“This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani said, in a statement. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”
The award recognizes Mirzakhani’s role in better understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, such as spheres and hyperbolic objects, a statement from Stanford University said, adding that Mirzakhani’s work, while considered theoretical and “pure mathematics," it also has implications for physics and quantum field theory.
“Maryam Mirzakhani has made stunning advances in the theory of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces, and led the way to new frontiers in this area,” a statement from IMU said. “Her insights have integrated methods from diverse fields, such as algebraic geometry, topology and probability theory.”
Born and raised in Tehran, Mirzakhani reportedly displayed an affinity for solving mathematical problems since her childhood. She found international recognition as a teenager after winning gold medals at both the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiads. In the latter competition, she was the first Iranian student to finish with a perfect score.
“It is fun – it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case,” Mirzakhani said. “I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path.”
Mirzakhani earned a bachelor's degree in Mathematics from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran in 1999. She also holds a PhD from Harvard University, where she worked under the guidance of Fields Medalist Curtis McMullen.
Artur Avila of the Institut de Mathématiques de Jussieu-Paris Rive Gauche in Paris; Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University; and Martin Hairer of The University of Warwick, were the other three recipients of the 2014 Fields Medal, according to the IMU.
From 2004 to 2008, Mirzakhani was a research fellow at the Clay Mathematics Institute and an assistant professor at Princeton University. In 2008, she became a professor of mathematics at Stanford University.
“Fluent in a remarkably diverse range of mathematical techniques and disparate mathematical cultures, she embodies a rare combination of superb technical ability, bold ambition, far-reaching vision, and deep curiosity,” an IMU statement said.