Maryam Mirzakhani was an Iranian mathematician.
Mirzakhani was born in Tehran. In high school, she became the first female ever to compete on Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team. She won gold medals in that competition in 1994 and 1995.
In 2004, she completed her PhD at Harvard University and began teaching at Princeton University. Mirzakhani had already made a name for herself among mathematicians and accepted a position as a mathematics professor at Stanford University.
During her career, Maryam was able to prove many complex mathematical theorems. Majul Bhargava, one of Maryam’s colleagues, commented on her amazing contributions to maths….
“Everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points on a flat surface is a straight line. But if the surface is curved—for example, the surface of a ball or a doughnut—then the shortest distance. . . will also be along a curved path, and can thus be more complicated. Maryam proved many amazing theorems about such shortest paths—called ‘geodesics’—on curved surfaces, among many other remarkable results in geometry and beyond.”Manjul Bhargava, The New Yorker
On 13 August 2014, Mirzakhani was honoured with the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics. This made her both the first, and to date, the only woman and the first Iranian to be honoured with the award.
Mirzakhani was just 40 when she died of breast cancer in 2017, only three years after winning one of math’s most prestigious prizes, the Fields Medal.
A new prize was just founded to honour Maryam and her work. The $50,000 prize will go to outstanding young female mathematicians who are no more than two years out from earning their doctoral degrees.