About three years after she became the first woman to win math’s equal to a Nobel Prize, Maryam Mirzakhani has died due to breast cancer at age 40. Her death was confirmed Saturday by Stanford University, where Mirzakhani was being a professor since 2008.
Mirzakhani had her husband, Jan Vondrák, and a daughter, Anahita — who once referred to her mother’s work as “painting” because of the scribble (doodles) and drawings that marked her procedure of working on proofs and problems, according to an necrology released by Stanford.
Former NASA scientist Firouz Naderi said in a tweet:
“A light was turned off today …. far too soon. Breaks apart my heart,” .
He further added, “A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife.
He (Naderi) later posted a time-lapse video of Mirzakhani where she was presiding a lecture hall, filling chalkboards with a proof.
— Firouz M. Naderi (@Firouz_Naderi) July 15, 2017
In her early life, Mirzakhani had wanted to become a writer. But her passion, emotionally attachment and gift for mathematics eventually won out.
Mirzakhani said when she won the reputable Fields Medal in 2014. “I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path.”
Mirzakhani was born in Tehran, Iran, and she lived in that country before coming to the U.S. to attach to graduate school at Harvard University. Then, she was already a star, having won gold medals in the International Mathematical Olympiad in the mid-1990s — after becoming the first girl ever named to Iran’s team.
Maryam Mirzakhani was the first Iranian woman selected to the National Academy of Sciences last year, in appreciation of her ‘distinguished achievement in original research.’ She was in good company: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were past honorees.
By Describing Mirzakhani’s work, Stanford says:
“Mirzakhani specialized in theoretical mathematics that read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics: moduli spaces, Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry.
“In short, Mirzakhani was fascinated by the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces — spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas. 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.”