Maryam Mirzakhani

The only woman to receive the Fields Medal in Mathematics

Who is Maryam Mirzakhani?

Maryam was born in Tehran, Iran in 1977 and she died on July 14, 2017, at only 40 years old from metastatic breast cancer. She is the only woman and the only Iranian to receive the Fields Medal for Mathematics, which she received in 2014, for “outstanding contributions to research on the dynamics and geometry of mathematical objects called Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.”

Her Early Life and Education

Maryam distinguished herself in mathematics at a young age while living in Iran.  She won a Gold Medal in Mathematics in both her junior and senior years of high school. She attended the International Mathematics Olympiad in Hong Kong in 1994 and became the first woman to win the International Gold Medal, scoring 41 out of 42 possible points. Then, in 1995 she won her second International Gold Medals in Toronto by scoring a perfect 42 out of 42 possible points. Maryam and her best friend Roya Beheshti were the first women to ever compete on the Iranian Math team for the International Mathematics Olympiads, and they rocked the event two years in a row, taking the Gold and the Silver medals both years. 

Maryam Mirzakhani’s Contributions to Science

Maryam’s completed her Ph.D. at Harvard University in 2004. Mirzakhani’s area of study was hyperbolic geometry which deals with curved surfaces (shapes like Pringles™). Her PhD. thesis solved the question of the number of simple closed geodesics, showing that “the number of simple closed geodesics of length less than   is polynomial in .  She solved it with a volume formula for the moduli space of bordered Riemann surfaces of genus with geodesic boundary components. These early studies led her to a volume formula for the moduli space of bordered Riemann surfaces of genus  with  geodesic boundary components. Both Maryam and her friend Roya became professors at Stanford University.

Her Legacy

Maryam broke through so many barriers in her short life that her legacy still lives on today by showing young women that, regardless of their sex or country of origin, they can excel in the field of mathematics. She also noodled through her mathematical concepts by sketching out shapes on large pieces of paper, underscoring the importance of art education in conjunction with STEM (STEAM). Mirzakhani also developed a number of mathematical tools for researchers to use that will help math enthusiasts in coming decades.

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