First fe­male win­ner of math’s top honor

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS -

Maryam Mirza­khani, an Ira­nian math­e­ma­ti­cian and the only woman to win a Fields Medal, the most pres­ti­gious honor in math­e­mat­ics, died Satur­day. She was 40.

The cause was breast can­cer, said Stan­ford Univer­sity, where she was a pro­fes­sor. The univer­sity did not say where she died.

Her death is “a big loss and shock to the math­e­mat­i­cal com­mu­nity world­wide,” said Peter Sar­nak, a math­e­ma­ti­cian at Prince­ton Univer­sity and the In­sti­tute for Ad­vanced Study.

The Fields Medal, estab­lished in 1936, is of­ten de­scribed as the No­bel Prize of math­e­mat­ics.

“She was in the midst of do­ing fan­tas­tic work,” Sar­nak said. “Not only did she solve many prob­lems; in solv­ing prob­lems, she de­vel­oped tools that are now the bread and but­ter of peo­ple work­ing in the field.”

Mirza­khani was one of four Fields win­ners in 2014 at the In­ter­na­tional Congress of Math­e­ma­ti­cians in South Korea. Un­til then, all 52 re­cip­i­ents had been men. She is also the only Ira­nian to win the award.

Ira­nian President Has­san Rouhani re­leased a state­ment ex­press­ing “great grief and sor­row.”

He wrote, “The un­par­al­leled ex­cel­lence of the cre­ative sci­en­tist and hum­ble per­son that echoed Iran’s name in sci­en­tific cir­cles around the world was a turn­ing point in in­tro­duc­ing Ira­nian women and youth on their way to con­quer the sum­mits of pride and var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional stages.”

Mirza­khani’s math­e­mat­ics looked at the in­ter­play of dy­nam­ics and ge­om­e­try, in some ways a more com­pli­cated ver­sion of bil­liards, with balls bounc­ing from one side to an­other on a rec­tan­gu­lar bil­liards ta­ble eter­nally.

Mirza­khani was born on May 3, 1977, in Tehran. As a child, she read vo­ra­ciously and wanted to be­come a writer.

In high school, she was a mem­ber of the Ira­nian team at the In­ter­na­tional Math­e­mat­i­cal Olympiad. She won a gold medal in the olympiad in 1994, and the next year she won an­other gold medal, with a per­fect score. Af­ter com­plet­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree at Sharif Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy in Tehran in 1999, she at­tended grad­u­ate school at Har­vard. She then be­came a pro­fes­sor at Prince­ton be­fore mov­ing to Stan­ford in 2008.

Survivors in­clude her hus­band, Jan Von­drak, who is also a math­e­mat­ics pro­fes­sor at Stan­ford, and a daugh­ter, Anahita.

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