An Iranian-American mathematician is the first woman ever to receive a Fields Medal, the highest honor bestowed on a mathematician. The recipient, Maryam Mirzakhani, a professor at Stanford, was one of four mathematicians to be honored on Wednesday at the International Congress of Mathematics in Seoul.
The other recipients this year are Artur Avila of the National Institute of Pure and Applied Mathematics in Brazil and the National Center for Scientific Research in France; Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University; and Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick in England.
The award is given out every four years. The 52 medalists from previous years were all men. Mirzakhani received her BS degree from Tehran's Sharif University in 1999 and her Ph.D. from Harvard in 2004.
“This is a great honor; I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Dr. Mirzakhani was quoted as saying in a Stanford news release on Tuesday. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”
Much of the research by Dr. Mirzakhani, who was born in Tehran in 1977, has involved the behavior of dynamical systems. There are no exact mathematical solutions for many dynamical systems, even simple ones.
“What Maryam discovered is that in another regime, the dynamical orbits are tightly constrained to follow algebraic laws,” said Curtis T. McMullen, a professor at Harvard who was Dr. Mirzakhani’s doctoral adviser. “These dynamical systems describe surfaces with many handles, like pretzels, whose shape is evolving over time by twisting and stretching in a precise way. They are related to billiards on tables that are not rectangular but still polygonal, like the regular octagon.” (The New York Times, 12 August)
Photo credit: Professor Maryam Mirzakhani, winner of the 2014 Fields Medal in Mathematics. (Wikipedia)