Maryam Mirzakhani was trending on Facebook today for no discernible reason. She hasn’t said anything new or controversial; neither has she recently been bestowed any honor. The last time she was in the public eye was in 2014, when she won the Fields Medal — the highest prize in Mathematics.
Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to be awarded the Fields Medal for advances in the theory of Riemann surface and her work in the understanding of the symmetry of curved surfaces. Its the highest award in mathematics, a.k.a the Nobel Prize of Math.
Back in 2014, The International Mathematical Union chose to give the honor to Mirzakhani after she discovered new advances in the theory of Riemann surface. The organization commends some of the best mathematicians every four years that are under the age of 40.
This math legend didn’t achieve the glory overnight: before she even went to college, Mirzakhani won gold at the International Mathematical Olympiad, the world’s most honored math tournament for pre-college students.
After getting her undergrad degree at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran, Mirzakhani went off to Harvard to get her PhD. She now works as a professor of mathematics at Stanford.
Over the years, her work has also potentially innovated different areas of study like mechanical engineering and material science.
Being the first female to win this prestigious award, people are considering this the first sign of many changes for the future. According to the National Academy of Sciences, studies show no biological differences that would explain the low representation of women in STEM academic faculty and leadership roles.
In an interview with Stanford News, Mirzakhani said she hopes to inspire more women to reach for their dreams:
“This is a great honor. 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. I think it’s rarely about what you actually learn in class … it’s mostly about things that you stay motivated to go and continue to do on your own.”
Why she was trending on Facebook?
She’s Iranian, and America has shared a tense relationship with Iran over the last three decades and recently put the country “on notice” for the alleged violation of a UN Security Council Resolution.
After an undergraduate degree at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran, she flew to Harvard University to get her PhD on the geometry of moduli space. She is now a professor of mathematics at Stanford.
The ban on persons from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen has left many students’ plans in limbo. Around 17,000 students from the aforementioned countries studied at American colleges last year with 12,000 of those were from Iran. A few Iranian scientists have recently spoken out against the ban and worry that their research and lives will be severely affected.