Iranian researcher becomes first woman to win maths' top prize, Fields medal

Photo: Iranian researcher becomes first woman to win maths' top prize, Fields medal / Iran

An Iranian mathematician working in the US has become the first ever female winner of the celebrated Fields Medal.

In a landmark hailed as "long overdue", Prof Maryam Mirzakhani was recognised for her work on complex geometry, BBC News reported Aug. 12.

Four of the medals will be presented in Seoul at the International Congress of Mathematicians, held every four years.

Also among the winners was Prof Martin Hairer from the University of Warwick, UK, whose work on randomness could prove useful for climate modelling.

Awarded by a committee from the International Mathematical Union (IMU), the Fields Medal is regarded as something akin to a Nobel Prize for maths. It was established by Canadian mathematician John Fields and comes with a 15,000 Canadian dollar (£8,000) cash prize.

First awarded in 1936 and then every four years since 1950, the medal is awarded to between two and four researchers, who must be no older than 40, because Fields wanted to encourage the winners to strive for "further achievement" as well as recognise their success.

The other two medals were won by Dr Artur Avila, a Brazilian mathematician who earned his PhD in dynamical systems at the age of 21, and Prof Manjul Bhargava, a Canadian-American number theorist at Princeton University.

In becoming the very first female medallist, Prof Mirzakhani - who teaches at Stanford University in California - ends what has been a long wait for the mathematics community.

Prof Mirzakhani's winning work relates to convoluted mathematical constructions called Riemann surfaces.

Mirzakhani studies the geometry of moduli space, a complex geometric and algebraic entity that might be described as a universe in which every point is itself a universe. Mirzakhani described the number of ways a beam of light can travel a closed loop in a two-dimensional universe. To answer the question, it turns out, you cannot just stay in your "home" universe - you have to understand how to navigate the entire multiverse. Mirzakhani has shown mathematicians new ways to navigate these spaces.

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