Maryam Mirzakhani is the First Woman to Win the 'Nobel of Math'

In 1936, the Fields Medal was instituted to recognize outstanding discoveries in mathematics. Winners had to be younger than 40, and, until this year, they were all men. 37-year-old Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani is one of this year's recipients for her "outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces." The Independent thankfully simplified that terminology for those of us who are more familiar with media than moduli: Mirzakhani has been priased for her work in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces. Sounds pretty poetic, actually. 

Mirzakhani is kind of a celebrity in the world of math. It's always come naturally to her. She says, "It is fun - it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case." As a teenager, she won gold medals at the International Mathematical Olympiad in 1994 and 1995. The latter year, she was the first Iranian student to finish with a perfect score. She got her BS at Tehran's Sharif University of Technology and her PhD at Harvard, and currently serves as a math professor at Stanford. 

"I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years," she said. We hope so too. In a world where a woman wins the "Nobel of math" and 56 percent of Harvey Mudd's graduating engineers are women, female mathematicians can be inspired by their groundbreaking mentors and peers alike.

Photo credit: Stanford University/EPA

Related Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College, on the magic of math: