World Views
10:46 am
Fri August 15, 2014

Stanford Professor First Woman To Win Top Math Prize

An Iranian-born Stanford University professor is the first woman to win math's highest honor, the Fields Medal.

The International Mathematics Union awarded the prize Wednesday to Maryam Mirzakhani and three others.

Photo of the obverse of a Fields Medal showing a bas relief of Archimedes (as identified by the Greek text). The Latin phrase states: Transire suum pectus mundoque potiri.
Photo of the obverse of a Fields Medal showing a bas relief of Archimedes (as identified by the Greek text). The Latin phrase states: Transire suum pectus mundoque potiri.
Credit Stefan Zachow / International Mathematical Union (IMU),

"This is incredible not just because it was awarded to a woman for the first time, but to an Iranian-born woman," says Suzette Grillot, the Dean of the College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma. "So now [there's] all of this excitement, thinking this is going to be a huge motivation for women in the future to study STEM fields - the science, technology, engineering, math fields."

Mirzakhani, 37, won for complex theoretical math on the symmetry of curved surfaces, including spheres and even doughnuts.

"Young girls need to see women in political positions, and positions of authority in scientific fields in those sorts of areas because you have to be able to see what you might look like," says Rebecca Cruise, the college's assistant dean. "Even here, women in the United States who can see a woman who's not white, who's of another ethnicity, and they can try to emulate that."

As a teenager, Mirzakhani won gold medals at international math contests. She earned her bachelor's degree in Iran and got her doctorate at Harvard University.

The other winners are Artur Avila, a Brazilian-born professor at the Institute of Mathematics of Jussieu in Paris, Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University and Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick in England.

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