Kickass Woman Of The Day: Maryam Mirzakhani Is The First Female Winner Of The Fields Medal For Mathematics

Maryam Mirzakhani, who is 37, became the first woman to win the Fields Medal this week. In the world of mathematics, the Fields Medal is equivalent to the Nobel Prize. If you’ve seen “Good Will Hunting,” you might remember hearing it referenced quite a few times. Mirzakhani was one of four recipients and was presented the award at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul. Mirzakhani grew up in Iran, where she initially thought she might become a writer before she fell in love with math, and then went on to study at Harvard. Now a professor at Stanford University, she is known for her studies of geometry and dynamical systems, especially the symmetry of curved surfaces. Mirzakhani says on Stanford’s website, “This is a great honour. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians. I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”

Mirzakhani went to a girls high school in Tehran where she campaigned for her principal to teach math problem-solving classes, like the neighboring boys high school was already offering. She became a member of Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team, and was the first student in the country to receive a perfect score in the competition. What appealed to her most about math growing up was the fun feeling that she was solving a puzzle like a detective. She says that these days, she still likes to approach complicated new proofs without a definitive plan. “It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out.” The Fields Award has been around since 1936 and has had only 56 winners. [Feministing, CBC, Stanford] [Image via Maryam Mirzakhani/Stanford University]