PAAIA Congratulates Maryam Mirzakhani on Becoming First Woman to Receive the Fields Medal

August 13, 2014, Washington, D.C. – PAAIA congratulates Maryam Mirzakhani on becoming the first woman to receive a Fields Medal, often considered to be mathematics’ equivalent of the Nobel Prize. A professor at Stanford University, Mirzakhani was one of four winners honored on Wednesday at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul, South Korea.

The Fields Medal is awarded every four years on the occasion of the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) to between two and four scholars under the age of 40. The award recognizes
“outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work and for the promise of future achievement.” Mirzakhani was given the award for her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.

“This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani said of the award in a Stanford news release. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”

Born and raised in Tehran, Mirzakhani dreamed of becoming a writer at a young age. By high school however, her passion for mathematics awoke and she became one of the first girls to join Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team. She received her undergraduate degree in mathematics at Sharif University in Tehran in 1999 before attending graduate school at Harvard University, where she finished her doctoral thesis in 2004 under the guidance of under the guidance of Curtis McMullen, a previous Fields Medal recipient. Her thesis resulted in three papers published in the three top journals of mathematics: Annals of Mathematics, Inventiones Mathematicae, and Journal of the American Mathematical Society.

Mirzakhani told Quanta Magazine that she feels certain that there will be many more female Fields medalists in the future. “There are really many great female mathematicians doing great things,” she said.

Ingrid Daubechies, a professor of mathematics at Duke University and current president of the International Mathematical Union, called the news “a great joy” in an email.

“All researchers in mathematics will tell you that there is no difference between the math done by a woman or a man, and of course the decision of the Fields Medal committee is based only on the results of each candidate,” she wrote. “That said, I bet the vast majority of the mathematicians in the world will be happy that it will no longer be possible to say that ‘the Fields Medal has always been awarded only to men.’ ”

Officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, the Fields Medal was founded through the efforts of John Charles Fields, a Canadian mathematician who had a major impact on national and international mathematical studies and research. Fields conceived of the award in the late 1920s, but the first medal was awarded in 1936. The ICM later placed an age limit of 40 in order to help encourage younger mathematicians in their careers.

Mathematics has long been a male-dominated field, with men earning about 70 percent of the doctoral degrees. Other prominent mathematics awards, including the Abel Prize and the Wolf Prize in Mathematics, have also been awarded solely to men in the past.

PAAIA congratulates Mirzakhani on her great work thus far and on representing the Iranian American community’s continued contributions to American society through dedication, passion, and hard work. We look forward to hearing more about her accomplishments to the field of mathematics.

Click here to read a profile of Maryam Mirzakhani by the Quanta Magazine.

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