The young mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani is no longer with us

Article published on Aug. 19, 2017
Article published on Aug. 19, 2017

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The famous Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani died of breast cancer on July 15th, at the age of 40. This professor at Stanford University was the first and only female recipient of the Fields Medal (known as the Nobel Prize in Mathematics).

Mirzakhani earned a BSc in Mathematics in 1999 from Sharif University of Technology in Teheran, and a PhD in Mathematics from Harvard in 2004 under the direction of Fields laureate Curtis McMullen.

On September 2008, at the age of 31, she was appointed professor of mathematics at Stanford, after having been a lecturer at Princeton University.

When she was still a little girl, Maryam Mirzakhani became passionate about math thanks to her brother, who gave her a book about Friedrich Gauss, the man who made it possible to sum the whole numbers from 1 to 100 - a reference for many young scientists.

At the age of 17, she was the first Iranian teenager to receive the gold medal at the International Mathematical Olympics, a contest where the best high school students in the world compete.

Most of her research focuses on the geometry of hyperbolic surfaces. When she received the Fields Medal in 2014, she said: "I will be happy if this encourages young female scientists and mathematicians. I am sure there will be many more women who will win this kind of award in the years to come."

This specialist in the geometry of unusual shapes had discovered new ways of calculating the volumes of objects with hyperbolic surfaces, such as horse saddles.

The mathematician had once escaped death twenty years ago; she was on a bus that carried mathematics students from Sharif University in Tehran, the most prestigious in the country, to a conference on this discipline held in the provinces. At the time, seven of the university's best students were killed in an accident there and the press described the day of the accident as "dark Tuesday".

Here's the introduction and conclusion of a document from the International Mathematical Union dedicated to the mathematician on the occasion of the presentation of the Fields Medal:

"Maryam Mirzakhani has made striking and very original contributions to geometry and the study of dynamic systems. Because of its complexity and inhomogeneity, module space has often seemed unsuited for direct study. Mirzakhani, however, has a strong geometric intuition that allows her to directly grasp the geometry of the space of modules, is familiar with a remarkable variety of mathematical techniques, and  embodies a rare equilibrium between superb technical performances, a bold ambition, a vision that goes beyond any and a deep curiosity. "