By Lucy Liu
Although the Fields Medal, often regarded as the “Noble Prize of Mathematics”, was established since 1936, it was only until this year that a woman won the medal. Maryam Mirzakhani, a mathematics professor at Stanford, won the Fields Medal due to her many original contributions to geometry and dynamical systems, especially in the understanding of curved surfaces. Not only is she the first woman to receive this prestigious award, she is also the first Stanford recipient since 1966. “This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani said. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”
Mirzakhani dreamed of becoming a writer when she was a young girl, but mathematics soon shifted her sights. “It is fun – it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case,” she said. “I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path.” As she continued to pursue mathematics, she won gold medals at both the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiad as a teenager. Maryam has done a lot of research to aspects of geometry like the volume of moduli spaces of curves on Riemann surfaces. In all of this research, Mirzakhani specializes in proofs that are purely mathematical, abstract concepts that do not have an obvious application to nature. “I don’t have any particular recipe,” Mirzakhani said of her proof developing process. “It is the reason why doing research is challenging as well as attractive. It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks and with some luck you might find a way out.”
Maryam Mirzakhani, being the first to win the “Noble Prize of Mathematics”, is a role model to many young girls pursuing mathematics. As shown, it is not impossible for a woman to win the Fields Medal. If one continues to pursue his/her dreams, accomplishing something like Maryam Mirzakhani is very possible.