The scientists who inspired us (IV): Maryam Mirzakhani

The last few months we have been sharing stories about the women who inspired our researchers to work in science with the aim of giving visibility to the contribution of many women who have devoted their lives to science throughout history. On this occasion, the celebration of May 12, Women in Mathematics Day, we will talk about the great Maryam Mirzakhani.

As you may remember, last year we organized the #WomenInMaths contest on Twitter to choose the name of our seminar room in honor of a woman mathematician. The winner of the contest was Uxune Martinez who proposed to name the BCAM seminar room after Mirzakhani, who in her opinion "was a constant, curious researcher, capable of giving answers to various mathematical puzzles in an original way". Since then our event space is called "Maryam Mirzakhani Seminar room" and one of her quotes decorates its walls: "The beauty of mathematics is only shown to its most patient followers". Keep reading to learn more about the famous Iranian mathematician.

Maryam Mirzhakani was born in Tehran in 1977. As a child, she loved to read and her dream was to become a writer. However, in high school, she discovered her love of mathematics and began to take an interest in the problems of the Math Olympiad. In 1994, when she was 17 years old, she made the Iranian Math Olympiad team and won a gold medal. The following year, she achieved a perfect score in the Olympiad and her passion for mathematics continued to grow.

After graduating in mathematics from Sharif University of Technology (Teheran, Iran) in 1999, Mirzakhani went on to graduate at Harvard University, where she earned her PhD in 2004. Her thesis on hyperbolic surfaces solved problems that the mathematical community had failed to solve for decades and resulted in three scientific articles published in leading scientific journals: Annals of Mathematics, Inventiones Mathematicae, and Journal of the American Mathematical Society.

In 2008, she joined Stanford University (USA) as a researcher and professor in the Department of Mathematics. Her research areas covered Teichmüller’s spaces, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and simplistic geometry.

In 2014 she was awarded the Fields Medal, the highest distinction given by the international mathematical community, becoming the first woman to receive this recognition. The committee of the International Mathematical Union highlighted her important contributions in the study of the moduli spaces of the Riemann surfaces.

 

Unfortunately, Mirzakhani was diagnosed with breast cancer and died on 15 July 2017. In November of the same year, Stanford University announced a graduate mathematics scholarship program in her honour to attract and support the next generation of leaders in this discipline. In November 2019, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation also announced the creation of the Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Award, which will be presented each year to outstanding women in the field of mathematics.

Additionally, in July 2018, during the World Meeting of Women in Mathematics, the date of Mirzakhani’s birthday was chosen as the International Women in Mathematics Day in her memory. The goal of the day is to inspire women everywhere to celebrate their achievements in mathematics, and to encourage an open, welcoming and inclusive work environment for everybody.


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