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Maryam Mirzakhani (1977 - 2017)

Maryam Mirzakhani / Corbis via Getty Images

Maryam Mirzakhani (1977 - 2017)

Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics, died Saturday, July 15, 2017, of breast cancer, according to multiple news sources. She was 40.

Mirzakhani won the Fields Medal in 2014 “for her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.” The prestigious award is sometimes called the Nobel Prize of mathematics. It is given every four years to mathematicians under age 40. She was the first woman to win the award since its inception in 1936.

Her work focused on the complexities of curved surfaces, such as spheres and doughnuts. Although much of it was highly theoretical, it has applications in quantum physics as well as engineering and materials science.

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Born May 3, 1977, in Tehran, Iran, she was an outstanding mathematics student. She left Iran to pursue her postgraduate degree in the United States, earning a doctorate in mathematics from Harvard in 2004. She became a professor at Stanford University in 2008.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.

“Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science,” Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne told Stanford News. “Maryam was a brilliant mathematical theorist, and also a humble person who accepted honors only with the hope that it might encourage others to follow her math. Her contributions as both a scholar and a role model are significant and enduring, and she will be dearly missed here at Stanford and around the world.”

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband and daughter.

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