Aug 132014
 

15b8630 - Fields Medal of Mathematics: First Woman Honored

Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman to ever to receive on August 13, 2014 the Fields Medal – known as the “Nobel Prize of mathematics,” since it was established in 1936 – in recognition of her contributions to the understanding of the symmetry of curved surfaces, such as spheres, the surfaces of doughnuts and of hyperbolic objects. Mirzakhani’s mathematics research has implications for physics and quantum field theory.

“This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani said to Stanford’s News service. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Mirzakhani, “as a young girl dreamed of becoming a writer. By high school, however, her affinity for solving mathematical problems and working on proofs had shifted her sights,” says the Stanford News service.

“It is fun – it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case,” she said. “I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path.”

Mirzakhani became known to the international math scene as a teenager, winning gold medals at both the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiads – she finished with a perfect score in the latter competition. Mathematicians, who would later be her mentors and colleagues, followed the mathematical proofs she developed as an undergraduate, chronicles the Stanford News service.

After earning her bachelor’s degree from Sharif University of Technology in 1999, Mirzakhani began work on her doctorate at Harvard University, under the guidance of Fields Medal recipient, Curtis McMullen.

“She possesses a remarkable fluency in a diverse range of mathematical techniques and disparate mathematical cultures – including algebra, calculus, complex analysis and hyperbolic geometry. By borrowing principles from several fields, she has brought a new level of understanding to an area of mathematics called low dimensional topology,” reports the Stanford News service.

Maryam Mirzakhani is a professor of mathematics at Stanford. Mirzakhani is also the first Stanford recipient to win this honor, since Paul Cohen in 1966.

“On behalf of the entire Stanford community, I congratulate Maryam on this incredible recognition, the highest honor in her discipline, the first ever granted to a woman,” said Stanford President John Hennessy.

“We are proud of her achievements, and of the work taking place in our math department and among our faculty. We hope it will serve as an inspiration to many aspiring mathematicians.”

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Officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, the Fields Medal is presented by the International Mathematical Union today, August 13, 2014, at the International Congress of Mathematicians, held this year in Seoul, South Korea. The 2014 prizes were awarded on Wednesday during the opening ceremony of the Congress. The union presents the medal every four years to up to four mathematicians age 40 or younger to recognize outstanding existing work and to foster “the promise of future achievement.”

Four scholars have received the Fields Medal for 2014, including Mirzakhani, the first woman medalist in the 78-year history of the prestigious mathematics prize, the International Mathematical Union has announced.

The other three Fields medalists for 2014 are:

Artur Avila, a research director at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, in Paris.

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Manjul Bhargava, a professor at Princeton University.

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Martin Hairer, a professor at the University of Warwick, in England.

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According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Stanford Mathematics Professor Mirzakhani won the American Mathematical Society’s Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in 2013.

Mirzakhani described then the situation for women in mathematics as still far from ideal. “The social barriers for girls who are interested in mathematical sciences might not be lower now than they were when I grew up,” the 37-year-old Iranian-born scholar said. “And balancing career and family remains a big challenge. It makes most women face difficult decisions, which usually compromise their work.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education referenced, “those remarks were cited in an article by The Guardian on Tuesday in which other prominent mathematicians praised the decision to honor Ms. Mirzakhani, as a step forward for women in the discipline.”

“I am thrilled that this day has finally come,” Sir Tim Gowers, a Fields medalist and mathematician at Cambridge University, told The Guardian. “Although women have contributed to mathematics at the highest level for a long time, this fact has not been visible to the general public. I hope that the existence of a female Fields medalist, who will surely be the first of many, will put to bed many myths about women and mathematics, and encourage more young women to think of mathematical research as a possible career.”

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Photo Credit: Front and Back of the Fields Medal, awarded every four years to a mathematician under the age of 40, by the International Mathematics Union.

The photos of the Fields Medal (this is the one Grigori Perelman did not accept) were made by Stefan Zachow (ZIB).

The photos carry no copyright and may be freely used for publications.

International Mathematics Union requests, though, that Stefan Zachow’s authorship is duely acknowledged.

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