Maryam Mirzakhani, Fields Medal recipient, dead at 40

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Maryam Mirzakhani, a world-renowned mathematician and Stanford University professor known for being the first woman to receive the prestigious Fields Medal for mathematics, has died, the university announced early Saturday.

Mirzakhani died Saturday after a long battle with cancer. She was 40.

The Fields Medal, often described as the mathematician’s Nobel Prize, is given every four years to no more than four mathematicians, all of whom are 40 or younger. Mirzakhani, of Iran, received the award in Seoul, South Korea in 2014.

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

Mirzakhani joined Stanford in 2008, where she served as a professor of mathematics until her death.

“In short, Mirzakhani was fascinated by the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces – spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas,” Stanford said in a news release. “Despite the highly theoretical nature of her work, it has implications in physics, quantum mechanics and other disciplines outside of math. She was ambitious, resolute and fearless in the face of problems others would not, or could not, tackle.”

Stanford president  Marc Tessier-Lavigne said Mirzakhani’s impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science careers.

“Maryam was a brilliant mathematical theorist, and also a humble person who accepted honors only with the hope that it might encourage others to follow her path,” he said. “Her contributions as both a scholar and a role model are significant and enduring, and she will be dearly missed here at Stanford and around the world.”

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, and a daughter, Anahita.

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