Stanford professor is first woman to win 'Nobel Prize of maths'

Stanford's Maryam Mirzakhani makes history today.

Maryam Mirzakhani, a professor of mathematics at Stanford, has been awarded the 2014 Fields Medal – often dubbed the "Nobel Prize of mathematics". She is the first woman to win the prize since it was established in 1936.

Officially known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, the Fields Medal will be presented by the International Mathematics Union at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul later today.

Mirzakhani's specialises in the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, such as spheres, the surfaces of doughnuts and of hyperbolic objects. While mostly theoretical, it has implications for physics and quantum field theory, Stanford said in a news release.

The work ... could have impacts concerning the theoretical physics of how the universe came to exist and, because it could inform quantum field theory, secondary applications to engineering and material science. Within mathematics, it has implications for the study of prime numbers and cryptography. Despite the breadth of applications of her work, Mirzakhani said she enjoys pure mathematics because of the elegance and longevity of the questions she studies.

Mirzakhani was born and raised in Tehran and at first wanted to be a writer until her mathematical talent became plain in high school.

"It is fun – it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case," she says.

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