Maths ‘ge­nius’ Mirza­khani dies

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Maryam Mirza­khani, an Ira­nian-born math­e­ma­ti­cian who was the first woman to win the cov­eted Fields Medal, died yes­ter­day in a US hos­pi­tal af­ter a bat­tle with can­cer. She was 40. Mirza­khani’s friend Firouz Naderi, a for­mer direc­tor of So­lar Sys­tems Ex­plo­ration at NASA, an­nounced her death on Instagram. “A light was turned off to­day. It breaks my heart ..... gone far too soon,” he wrote, later adding: “A ge­nius? Yes. But also a daugh­ter, a mother and a wife.”

Mirza­khani, a pro­fes­sor at Stan­ford Univer­sity in Cal­i­for­nia, died af­ter the can­cer she had been bat­tling for four years spread to her bone mar­row, Ira­nian me­dia said. In 2014 Mirza­khani won the Fields Medal, the equiv­a­lent of the No­bel Prize for Math­e­mat­ics, which is awarded by the In­ter­na­tional Congress of Math­e­ma­ti­cians. The award rec­og­nized her so­phis­ti­cated and orig­i­nal con­tri­bu­tions to the fields of ge­om­e­try and dy­nam­i­cal sys­tems, par­tic­u­larly in un­der­stand­ing the sym­me­try of curved sur­faces such as spheres.

Born in 1977 and raised in Tehran, Mirza­khani ini­tially dreamed of be­com­ing a writer, but by the time she started high school and showed an affin­ity for solv­ing math prob­lems she shifted her sights. “It is fun - it’s like solv­ing a puz­zle or connecting the dots in a de­tec­tive case,” she said when she won the Fields Medal. “I felt that this was some­thing I could do, and I wanted to pur­sue this path.”

Mirza­khani said she en­joyed pure math­e­mat­ics be­cause of the el­e­gance and longevity of the ques­tions she stud­ies. “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 added. In 2008 she be­came a pro­fes­sor of math­e­mat­ics at Stan­ford. She is sur­vived by her hus­band, Stan­ford math­e­ma­ti­cian Jan Von­drak, and her young daugh­ter Anahita.

In Iran, Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani said that Mirza­khani’s “dole­ful pass­ing” has caused “great sor­row,” state me­dia re­ported. Rouhani praised the “un­prece­dented bril­liance of this cre­ative sci­en­tist and mod­est hu­man be­ing, who made Iran’s name res­onate in the world’s sci­en­tific fo­rums, (and) was a turn­ing point in show­ing the great will of Ira­nian women and young peo­ple on the path to­wards reach­ing the peaks of glory ... in var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional are­nas.”

Sep­a­rately on Instagram, Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif said that Mirza­khani’s death is a cause for grief for all Ira­ni­ans. Mirza­khani’s im­pact “will live on for the thou­sands of women she in­spired to pur­sue math and sci­ence,” said Stan­ford Pres­i­dent Marc Tessier-Lav­i­gne. He de­scribed her as “a hum­ble per­son who ac­cepted hon­ors only with the hope that it might en­cour­age oth­ers to fol­low her path”. The univer­sity said via Stan­ford News that Mirza­khani’s pre­ferred method of work­ing “was to doo­dle on large sheets of white pa­per, scrib­bling for­mu­las on the pe­riph­ery of her draw­ings. Her young daugh­ter de­scribed her mother at work as ‘paint­ing’.”

Mirza­khani be­came known on the in­ter­na­tional math­e­mat­ics scene as a teenager, win­ning gold medals at both the 1994 and 1995 In­ter­na­tional Math Olympiads - and fin­ished with a per­fect score in the lat­ter com­pe­ti­tion. She went on to win the 2009 Blu­men­thal Award for the Ad­vance­ment of Re­search in Pure Math­e­mat­ics, and the 2013 Sat­ter Prize of the Amer­i­can Math­e­mat­i­cal So­ci­ety. Mirza­khani stud­ied math­e­mat­ics at Sharif Univer­sity in Iran and earned a PhD de­gree from Har­vard in 2004. She then taught at Prince­ton Univer­sity be­fore mov­ing to Stan­ford in 2008.

The Fields Medal, which she won in 2014, is given out ev­ery four years, of­ten to mul­ti­ple win­ners aged 40 or younger. Mirza­khani also col­lab­o­rated with Alex Eskin, a Univer­sity of Chicago math­e­ma­ti­cian “to take on an­other of the most-vex­ing prob­lems in the field: The tra­jec­tory of a bil­liards ball around a polyg­o­nal ta­ble,”Stan­ford News said.“The chal­lenge be­gan as a thought ex­er­cise among physi­cists a cen­tury ago and had yet to be solved.” — AFP

Maryam Mirza­khani

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