An Iranian mathematician was named one of four winners of the Fields Medal on Wednesday, making her the first woman to take home the most prestigious mathematics prize since the award was established almost 80 years ago.
Maryam Mirzakhani, a professor at Stanford University, was one of the four mathematicians to be awarded the Fields Medal by the International Congress of Mathematicians at its conference in Seoul, South Korea.
Also among the winners was Artur Avila, a research director at France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University in New Jersey, and Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick in Britain also received the award, which is widely regarded as the “Nobel Prize of mathematics”.
Mirzakhani said it was a “great honour” to be the first woman to win the prize since it was established in 1936.
“I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani was quoted as saying on Stanford’s website.
“I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years,” she said.
‘It’s like solving a puzzle’
Mirzakhani, 37, was born in Tehran and lived there until she began her doctorate work at Harvard University. She said she had dreamed of becoming a writer when she was young, but she pursued her enthusiasm for solving mathematical problems.
“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 said.
Mirzakhani was recognised for her work in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, according to the Stanford site.
She has previously won the 2009 Blumenthal Award for the Advancement of Research in Pure Mathematics and the 2013 Satter Prize of the American Mathematical Society.
The prizes are awarded every four years. Wednesday’s prizes were presented by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the first woman to hold that post.