Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian-born mathematician who was the first woman to win the coveted Fields Medal, has died in a US hospital after a battle with cancer. She was 40.
Mirzakhani friend Firouz Naderi announced her death on Saturday on Instagram, and her relatives confirmed the death to the Mehr agency in Iran.
“A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart ….. gone far too soon,” wrote Naderi, a former director of Solar Systems Exploration at NASA.
A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife,” he added in a subsequent post.
Mirzakhani, a professor at Stanford University in California, died after the cancer she had been battling for four years spread to her bone marrow, Iranian media said.
In 2014 Mirzakhani won the Fields Medal, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Mathematics, which is awarded by the International Congress of Mathematicians.
The award recognised her sophisticated and highly original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces such as spheres.
Born in 1977 and raised in Tehran, she attended an all-girls high school and then studied at the capital’s Sharif University.
Mirzakhani initially dreamed of becoming a writer, but by the time she started high school her affinity for solving mathematical problems and working on proofs had shifted her sights.
“It is fun — it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case,” she said when she won the Fields Medal.
“I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path.”
Mirzakhani said she enjoyed pure mathematics because of the elegance and longevity of the questions she studies.
“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,” she added.
In 2008 she became a professor of mathematics at Stanford. She is survived by her husband, who is also a Standford University maths researcher, and their young daughter.