First woman to win prestigious Fields Medal dies

Maryam Mirzakhani Passes Away

Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who was the first and only woman to win the Fields Medal in mathematics, has died.

Mirzakhani was born in Tehran, Iran on May 3, 1977, and she quickly displayed an awesome talent for math. She had extensively contributed to the theory of moduli spaces of Riemann surfaces.

Prof Dame Frances Kirwan, a member of the medal selection committee from the University of Oxford, said at the time, "I hope that this award will inspire lots more girls and young women, in this country and around the world, to believe in their own abilities and aim to be the Fields Medallists of the future".

In 1994, she won the gold medal in the Iranian International Mathematical Olympiad at age 17. In 1995, she notched a ideal score and two gold medals.

She left Iran to pursue her post-graduate degree in the United States, earning a PhD from Harvard in 2004.

"It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out", she said once. Her notes were jotted in Farsi.

Her death was confirmed Saturday by Stanford University, where Mirzakhani had been a professor since 2008.

In recent years, she collaborated with Alex Eskin at the University of Chicago to take on another of the most-vexing problems in the field: the trajectory of a billiards ball around a polygonal table. The challenge, which began as a thought exercise among physicists a century ago, had yet to be solved.

In 2014, she told Quanta Magazine, a science publication, that she thought about mathematics in pictures, doodling her ideas on giant sheets of paper scattered across her office. It has been hailed as "the beginning of a new era" in mathematics and "a titanic work".

She is survived by husband Jan Vondrák, a Czech theoretical computer scientist, and their daughter Anahita.

Her friend Firouz Michael Naderi, an Iranian-American NASA scientist, said on Instagram, "A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart... gone far too soon", she wrote. "Sad to learn about the passing of #MaryamMirzakhani - the intelligent #Iranian daughter, wife, mother, professor".

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