Maryam Mirzakhani, a renowned mathematician and the first woman to win the Fields Medal, died on Saturday after a four year battle with breast cancer. She was 40 years old.
Mirzakhani’s friend Firouz Naderi, the former Director for Solar System Exploration at NASA, broke the news on Instagram Saturday. “A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart ….. gone far too soon,” he wrote.
Mirzakhani had a profound impact in the field of mathematics. A professor at Stanford, the Iranian-born Mirzakhani won the Fields Medal in 2014 for her research on the complex structural configurations known as Riemann surfaces. Particularly, Mirzakhani’s work concerned the “moduli spaces” of these shapes.
Stanford University told The Guardian that Mirzakhani’s work in mathematics on space and shape had implications in fields ranging from cryptography to the theoretical physics of how the universe came to exist.
She was the first woman to win the Fields Medal, nicknamed the “Nobel Prize for Mathematics.” The win was significant; although women have been contributing to mathematics for centuries, the field is still viewed as predominately male. One need look no further than the Fields Medal itself; the prize was established in 1936.
Mirzakhani was born in 1977 in Tehran. She won two gold medals in the International Mathematical Olympiad as a teen, and earned her PhD at Harvard in 2004. She is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, and her daughter, Anahita.
Here’s a video of Mirzakhani talking about her life and work: