Maryam Mirzakhani, a female Iranian mathematician, has been awarded a prestigious Fields Prize. This award is similar to a Noble Prize for mathematics, and is the highest honor bestowed upon those who study math.
Mirzakhani is a professor at Stanford University, who has now been named both the first woman, as well as the first Iranian, to be awarded the prize.
The Fields Prize was first established nearly 80 years ago, with the first award given to Lars Ahlfors of Finland in 1936. The prize is awarded to mathematicians under 40 years of age, who have made outstanding contributions to the science.
Each winner of the award, properly known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, is also awarded around $15,000 in addition to the recognition.
The Iranian mathematician has been the recipient of other prestigious awards as well. She won the International Mathematical Olympiad in both 1994 and 1995. Her perfect performance in the second event was the first flawless performance in the history of the contest.
Her research specialty is advanced geometry including Riemann surfaces, one-dimensional surfaces which can be mathematically described as three-dimensional figures such as spheres.
Mirzakhani was "awarded the Fields Medal for her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces," the International Mathematical Union (IMU) announced.
Stanford professors have not won the prize since 1966, when one was awarded to Paul Cohen.
Mirzakhani was born in Tehran, and wanted to grow up to be a writer when she grew older. By high school, however, she discovered a talent at uncovering patterns in mathematics that was quickly recognized by her instructors. She decided to follow her calling into mathematical sciences, and graduated from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran in 1999. The budding mathematician then moved to the United States, where she attended graduate school, earning her doctorate from Harvard University.
Mirzakhani has a talent, as many great mathematicians do, of solving complex problems using a unique, simple approach. One of her earliest discoveries was solving a problem in calculating the volume of moduli spaces. She did this by picturing tiny loops attached to each point of the surface.
"This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians. I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years," Mirzakhani said.
The mathematics which won the award for the Iranian woman was developed for the sake of pure mathematics, without pretext for use outside of research. However, her discoveries could assist researchers, working on problems in sub-atomic physics, including quantum field theory.