Stanford prof is first woman to win top math prize

(USATODAY) -- A Stanford University professor has become the first woman to win the world's top prize for mathematics.

Maryam Mirzakhani was awarded the Fields Medal, known as the "Nobel Prize of math," during a meeting Wednesday at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul, South Korea.

She was honored for 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, the surfaces of doughnuts and of hyperbolic objects," Stanford's news service explained.

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

She called mathematics "fun – it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case."

Mirzakhani distinguished herself as a math whiz as a teenager, winning gold medals in the International Math Olympiads.

She is the second Stanford scholar to win the award, officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, which was established in 1936. The first was Paul Cohen, in 1966.

The Fields Medal was also presented for the first time to a mathematician from Latin America, Artur Avila.

The other two winners were Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University and Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick, in the United Kingdom. Scientific American has more on their achievements.

All winners will receive $13,700 cash.

The award's informal name is a tribute to Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields, who founded and created the medal, which is handed out every four years to between two and four mathematicians younger than 40.


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