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Aug 14, 2014 07:28 AM EDT

Stanford Professor Becomes First Women to Win Fields Medal

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Maryam Mirzakhani, a mathematics professor at the Stanford, is the first woman ever to win the Fields Medal for her contributions to the understanding of the symmetry of curved surfaces.

Officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, the Fields Medal was established in 1936 and is considered as the "Nobel Prize of mathematics".

Mirzakhani is only the second Stanford recipient to win the honor since Paul Cohen in 1966.

"This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians," Mirzakhani said in a statement. "I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years."

The award recognizes Mirzakhani's contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, and understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces like spheres, surfaces of doughnuts and of hyperbolic objects. Her work, deemed "pure mathematics" and theoretical, has implications for physics and quantum field theory.

"We are proud of her achievements, and of the work taking place in our math department and among our faculty. We hope it will serve as an inspiration to many aspiring mathematicians," said Stanford President John Hennessy.

Born and raised in Tehran, Mirzakhani's passion for solving mathematical problems and working on proofs began in high school. She has won GOLD medals at the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiads with perfect scores in the latter competition.

"It is fun - it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case," Mirzakhani said. "I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path."

Mirzakhani holds a bachelor's degree from the Sharif University of Technology in 1999 and a doctorate from the Harvard University. She is known to be remarkably fluent in a wide range of mathematical techniques and culture including algebra, calculus, complex analysis and hyperbolic geometry.

"What's so special about Maryam, the thing that really separates her, is the originality in how she puts together these disparate pieces," said Steven Kerckhoff, a mathematics professor at the Stanford and one of Mirzakhani's collaborators. "That was the case starting with her thesis work, which generated several papers in all the top journals. The novelty of her approach made it a real tour de force."

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