As humans, we have always seemed to aspire for greatness. Competition seems to be apart of our nature. People compete with each other to create innovative products, inspire new ideas, and change the world. We have made it our custom to reward those individuals that contribute more to our very diverse human culture. These rewards include many awards, such as the Nobel Prize, the Person of the Year (Time Magazine), the Templeton Prize, etc. One such award is the Fields Medal.
The Field Medal is considered the Nobel Prize of Math. It is a great honor for its receipiants. In the prize’s 78 years, 2014 is the first in which a woman won. The honorary woman who received the Fields Medal this year is Maryam Mirzakhani.
Mirzakhani is a mathematics professor at Stanford University. When asked about how she feels about the award, she responded “I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians. I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.” This brings up the popular topic of women in math and science. Schools often don’t encourage women into science or math careers. Many engineering fields are predominately male, yet this is fundamentally a fallacy. Diversity in any work field is necessary to promote creative ideas and execute them quickly. This is a noticeable flaw in math and science careers today, in which many new ideas take a very lengthy time to publish.
Back to Mirzakhani. Mirzakhani grew up in Tehran, Iran. Believe it or not but Mirzakhani wasn’t also interested in mathematics. As a kid, she was an avid reader and dreamed of becoming a writer. That all changed when she went to high school. There she discovered her love for solving math problems and proofs, describing them as “solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case”.
Mirzakhani continued her new found interest at the Sharif University of Technology in Iran, where she studied mathematics as an undergraduate. Later she began her doctorate at Harvard University under the mentorship of Curtis McMullen, anotehr Fields Medal recipient.
Today, Mirzakhani’s math specialty lies purely in mathematics. This involves abstract math concepts and has implications for physics theories. Her work that earned her the Fields Medal focuses on understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces (i.e. spheres).
As of now, Mirzakhani is 37 years old and lives in the Bay Area with her husband and her 3 year old daughter.