A beautiful mind’: First woman to win math equivalent to Nobel Prize dies at 40

Maryam Mirzakhani, among the most brilliant mathematical minds in the world and inspiration to thousands of young women in the discipline, has died at 40 after a battle with breast cancer, Stanford University announced.

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Mirzakhani, who died Saturday, was a professor at the school since 2008. In 2014, the Iran native became the first woman to win the prestigious Fields Medal, often described as the Nobel Prize for mathematics. But unlike the annual Nobel awards, the Fields Medal is awarded once every four years.

Mirzakhani specialized in theoretical mathematics that “read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics,” Stanford said in a statement. Her primary subjects included moduli spaces, Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry.

“Mastering these approaches allowed Mirzakhani to pursue her fascination for describing the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces — spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas — in as great detail as possible,” the Stanford statement said.

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne credited Mirzakhani with inspiring thousands of women to pursue math and science.

“Maryam was a brilliant mathematical theorist, and also a humble person who accepted honors only with the hope that it might encourage others to follow her path,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “Her contributions as both a scholar and a role model are significant and enduring, and she will be dearly missed here at Stanford and around the world.”

Firouz M. Naderi, former NASA solar system exploration director, tweeted: “A light was turned off … far too soon. Breaks my heart.”

“A beautiful mind,” he added.

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