Maryam Mirzakhani

Every day, scientists use math – whether it’s doing simple algebra by hand to determine concentrations of a solution or entering strings of data into complex algorithms that do the calculations for them. But how often do we stop to appreciate the mathematicians who have worked to make our quantitative view of the world possible? This WiSE Wednesday, we’re asking you to do just that, in memory of this week’s honoree, Maryam Mirzakhani, who died of breast cancer last weekend.

In her short life (40 years), Maryam contributed greatly to the field of mathematics, conducting research on dynamics and geometry of complicated surfaces. However, she didn’t come to the attention of the wider public until 2014, when she became the first woman and first Iranian to win the Fields Medal (the highest award for mathematics). Ground-breaking firsts were nothing new to Maryam, who was also the first female Iranian to win the International Mathematical Olympiad (1994) and the first Iranian to receive a perfect score and take home two gold medals the following year.

Born in Tehran, Iran in 1977, she attended Sharif University of Technology before coming to the US for doctoral studies at Harvard. She later taught at Princeton and then became a professor at Stanford. Maryam was an inspiration to many and will be deeply missed.