The only Muslim Woman to Win the ‘Nobel Prize’ of Mathematics has Passed Away

“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 path. 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.” – Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne

The Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, indeed was an example for all women in the field of science and mathematics. She was born in Tehran, Iran, and where she studied before she went to Harvard University in the United States. By that time, she had already won numerous gold medals in the International Mathematical Olympiad after her older brother encouraged her to participate, being the first ever girl on the national team of Iran. In 2008, she became a professor of mathematics in Stanford University. During her career, she won many prizes but the most notable of them was the Field’s medal, an award given out every four years since 1936. In 2014, she became the only woman in the world to win this prize, which in the field of mathematics is equivalent to the Nobel Prize. She won the prize because of her contribution to complex geometry and dynamic systems. Stanford described her specialization as something that “read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics: moduli spaces, Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and sympletic geometry” which allowed her “to describe the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surface spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas…She was ambitious, resolute and fearless in the face of problems others would not, or could not, tackle.”

Mirzakhani emphasised in 2014 that she would continue to improve the position of women in mathematics and that she was proud to be the first Iranian to receive this award. She spoke passionately about mathematics, saying it made her feel like a detective, that “it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case”.

Unfortunately, last summer in July 2017, she died at the age of 40, leaving her husband and daughter behind after a long battle with breast cancer, which had eventually spread to her bone marrow. All around the world, Iranians and other great names in the fields of mathematics were shocked to hear of her death.

“The grievous passing of Maryam Mirzakhani, the eminent Iranian and world-renowned mathematician, is very much heartrending”, the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani wrote.

“A light was tuned off today, it breaks my heart…A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife”, Iranian-American scientist Firouz Naderi wrote.

“RIP Maryam #Mirzakhani (1977-2017). Beautiful mind, beautiful soul, wonderful woman. Emblematic figure for Iran and for women in science” said the French Field’s Medal winner Cédric Villani.

Indeed, Maryam Mirzakhani will be remembered as the fearless woman in science. A woman with great perseverance to explore and learn about the unknown in mathematics. A woman who showed the world that taking on the challenges in life can make anything possible.


This article is written by Batoul Mesdaghi.