Prof Maryam Mirzakhani is first woman to receive mathematics’ highest honour

14 Aug 2014

Prof Maryam Mirzakhani. Image via Stanford News Service

Even though it has existed for 80 years, a woman has never before been awarded the Fields Medal for achievement in mathematics – until now.

The Fields Medal is often referred to as ‘the Nobel Prize of mathematics’ and is awarded only every four years during the International Congress of the International Mathematical Union (IMU).

The award recognises outstanding achievements in the field of mathematics in terms of existing work from young researchers and the promise of future contributions, and recipients must be under 40 years of age.

The award itself takes its name from Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields who was instrumental in establishing it.

Iranian mathematician Prof Maryam Mirzakhani accepted the award at the event on 13 August in Seoul, South Korea. “This is a great honour. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” she said. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”

Mirzakhani is professor of mathematics at Stanford University, California, where her research interests include Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry.

The IMU selected Mirzakhani for its top honour in recognition of her “outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces”, the organisation stated.

Three more recipients of the Fields Medal were announced at the event: Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava and Martin Hairer.

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.