You might not have heard the name Maryam Mirzakhani much during her life, but, as women, we should take some time to appreciate her outstanding achievements for the furthering of women in a male-dominated sphere following her passing away from cancer this weekend. She was just 40-years-old.
The Iranian-born mathematician was the first woman to ever win the coveted Fields Medal for maths in 2014. Only given once every four years, it marks outstanding contributions in mathematics from young scientists (under the age of 40).
In particular, the award, heralded as the ‘Nobel Prize’ for mathematics, was given to her for her groundbreaking work in geometry, dynamical systems and understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces.
Her friend Firouz Naderi, a former director of Solar Systems Exploration at Nasa, announced her death on Saturday.
“A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart… gone far too soon,” wrote Naderi.
“A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife,” he added.
She was born in 1977 and raised in Tehran. She harboured dreams of becoming a writer, but changed her mind during high school where she realised how much she loved solving maths problems.
Speaking as she accepted her Fields medal, she said: “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.”
She became a professor of mathematics at Stanford University in 2008.
The reaction to her death in Iran has been unparalleled, with the national media breaking strict dress code rules to picture her in their pages with her head uncovered.
Iranian President said that Mirzakhani’s passing had caused him “great sorrow” and he praised her “unprecedented brilliance of this creative scientist and modest human being, who made Iran’s name resonate in the world’s scientific forums, (and) was a turning point in showing the great will of Iranian women and young people on the path towards reaching the peaks of glory…in various international arenas.”
Here’s hoping her achievements continue to inspire young women in fields they are routinely told they cannot be part of.