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Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman to win Fields Medal in Mathematics, dies of cancer

Sunday July 16, 2017 10:44 AM, & Agencies

Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian-born mathematician who in 2014 became the first woman awarded the Fields Medal, often called the most prestigious prize in mathematics, died July 15. She was 40.

Stanford University, where she had been a professor since 2008, announced her death but did not say where she died. The cause was breast cancer.

Dr. Mirzakhani grew up in Tehran and came to the United States in 1999 for graduate study at Harvard University. Her mathematical interests included the theoretical study of complex geometric shapes and the movement of billiard balls across surfaces.

Her work was deeply theoretical, but other mathematicians considered it boldly original and of untold future importance. Her doctoral dissertation, which she completed in 2004, solved two long-standing mathematical problems and led to publications in three major mathematics journals.

"She has a fearless ambition when it comes to mathematics," her Harvard mentor, Curtis McMullen, a past Fields Medal winner, told Quanta Magazine in 2014.

Nicknamed the "Nobel Prize for Mathematics", the Fields Medal is only awarded every four years to between two and four mathematicians under 40.

It was given to Dr Mirzakhani in 2014. Her research topics included Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Prof Mirzakhani's death caused "great sorrow," state media reported.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said her death was a cause for grief for all Iranians.

"A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart... gone far too soon," US-Iranian scientist Firouz Naderi posted on Instagram.

He added in a subsequent post: "A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife."

Dr Mirzakhani and her husband, Czech scientist Jan Vondrak, had one daughter.

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