An Iranian woman becomes the first ever female to win the Fields Medal from the International Mathematical Union. The medal has been awarded to the rightful winner every four years for the past 80 years since it began, and each and every time the award has been given to a man. But that all changed in 2014, when Maryam Mirzakhani won the award.
Mirzakhani is a professor at Stanford University and was presented the award for her “outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.” After being the first female recipient she told the Stanford Report, “It is fun – it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case. I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path.”
After receiving her undergraduate degree at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, she went on to earn her PhD at Harvard University, where she studied under Curtis McMullen, who was also awarded the Fields Medal, back in 1998. The main cause of Mirzakhani being awarded the Fields Medal was owing to her work finding the volume of moduli spaces in complex one-dimensional planes known as Riemann surfaces, although her interests in mathematics also span well beyond her current expertise.
She stated, “I don’t have any particular recipe [for creating new proofs]. It is the reason why doing research is challenging as well as attractive. It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out.” She has proudly stated that being the first woman to receive the award is a “great honour”, and adds that she “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.”