Stanford’s Maryam Mirzakhani Is the First Muslim Fields Medalis
By Sameen Ahmed Khan
Salalah College of Technology (SCOT)
Sultanate of Oman
Maryam Mirzakhani became the first Muslim, the first woman and the first Iranian to be honored with the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics. Professor Mizakhani is the first and only Muslim among 56 mathematicians who have received this prestigious honor in the prize’s eighty-year history. The Fields Medal is widely described as the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics”.
The award committee cited her work in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces for the award. Her research topics include Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry.
Dr Maryam was born in Tehran, Iran in 1977 and has been working as a professor of mathematics at Stanford University in the USA since 2008. The Fields Medal, officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, is a prize awarded to two, three, or four mathematicians once in four years on the occasion of the International Congress of Mathematicians to recognize outstanding mathematical achievements. A candidate’s 40th birthday must not occur before January 1st of the year of the Congress at which the Fields Medals are awarded. This requirement makes the prize very difficult to win. This year the awards were announced during the International Congress of Mathematics at Seoul, Korea in August.
As a young girl, Maryam dreamed of becoming a writer. By high school, however, her inclination for solving mathematical problems and working on proofs had shifted her sights. Maryam became known to the international math scene as a teenager, winning gold medals at the International Math Olympiads held in Hong Kong (1994) and Toronto (1995). In Toronto, she finished with a perfect score. After earning her bachelor's degree from Sharif University of Technology in 1999, she began work on her doctorate at Harvard University under the guidance of the 1998 Fields Medalist, Curtis McMullen. She obtained PhD in 2004. From 2004 to 2008, Maryam was a Clay Mathematics Institute Research Fellow and an assistant Professor at Princeton University. She is now a professor at Stanford University. Experts say that her achievements “combine superb problem-solving ability, ambitious mathematical vision and fluency in many disciplines, which is unusual in the modern era, when considerable specialization is often required to reach the frontier”. Her honors include the 2009 Blumenthal Award for the Advancement of Research in Pure Mathematics and the 2013 Satter Prize of the American Mathematical Society.