News

Stanford professor wins highest award in mathematics

Solving proofs, she says, is like 'connecting the dots in a detective case'

A Stanford University professor today became the first woman to win the highest honor in mathematics.

Maryam Mirzakhani of Palo Alto was one of four mathematicians awarded the 2014 Fields Medal at a meeting of the International Mathematics Union in Seoul, South Korea.

The award cited Mirzakhani's sophisticated and original contributions to 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. Although her work is considered pure mathematics and is mostly theoretical, it has implications for physics and quantum field theory.

Mirzakhani told the Stanford News Service that working on proofs is "fun – it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case.

"I don't have any particular recipe," she said of her approach. "It is the reason why doing research is challenging as well as attractive. It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out."

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Mirzakhani said she would be happy if her award "encourages young female scientists and mathematicians.

"I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years," she said.

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Mirzakhani emerged on the international math scene as a teenager, winning gold medals at the International Math Olympiad in 1994 and 1995. After earning her bachelor's degree from Sharif University of Technology in 1999 she began work on her doctorate at Harvard University under the guidance of Fields Medal recipient Curtis McMullen.

By borrowing principles from several fields, she brought new understanding to the area of mathematics called low dimensional topology.

"What's so special about Maryam, the thing that really separates her, is the originality in how she puts together these disparate pieces," Stanford colleague Steven Kerckhoff said. "That was the case starting with her thesis work, which generated several papers in all the top journals. The novelty of her approach made it a real tour de force."

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Mirzakhani, who came to Stanford in 2008, was from 2004 to 2008 a research fellow at Clay Mathematics Institute and an assistant professor at Princeton University.

Also winning Fields Medals today were the Brazilian-French mathematician Artur Avila of the French National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Paris; Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University; and Martin Hairer of Warwick University in England.

Mirzakhani is the first Stanford winner of the Fields Medal since Paul Cohen in 1966. The award was established in 1936.

— Palo Alto Weekly Staff

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Stanford professor wins highest award in mathematics

Solving proofs, she says, is like 'connecting the dots in a detective case'

Uploaded: Wed, Aug 13, 2014, 9:46 am

A Stanford University professor today became the first woman to win the highest honor in mathematics.

Maryam Mirzakhani of Palo Alto was one of four mathematicians awarded the 2014 Fields Medal at a meeting of the International Mathematics Union in Seoul, South Korea.

The award cited Mirzakhani's sophisticated and original contributions to 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. Although her work is considered pure mathematics and is mostly theoretical, it has implications for physics and quantum field theory.

Mirzakhani told the Stanford News Service that working on proofs is "fun – it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case.

"I don't have any particular recipe," she said of her approach. "It is the reason why doing research is challenging as well as attractive. It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out."

Mirzakhani said she would be happy if her award "encourages young female scientists and mathematicians.

"I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years," she said.

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Mirzakhani emerged on the international math scene as a teenager, winning gold medals at the International Math Olympiad in 1994 and 1995. After earning her bachelor's degree from Sharif University of Technology in 1999 she began work on her doctorate at Harvard University under the guidance of Fields Medal recipient Curtis McMullen.

By borrowing principles from several fields, she brought new understanding to the area of mathematics called low dimensional topology.

"What's so special about Maryam, the thing that really separates her, is the originality in how she puts together these disparate pieces," Stanford colleague Steven Kerckhoff said. "That was the case starting with her thesis work, which generated several papers in all the top journals. The novelty of her approach made it a real tour de force."

Mirzakhani, who came to Stanford in 2008, was from 2004 to 2008 a research fellow at Clay Mathematics Institute and an assistant professor at Princeton University.

Also winning Fields Medals today were the Brazilian-French mathematician Artur Avila of the French National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Paris; Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University; and Martin Hairer of Warwick University in England.

Mirzakhani is the first Stanford winner of the Fields Medal since Paul Cohen in 1966. The award was established in 1936.

— Palo Alto Weekly Staff

Comments

member
Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:26 am
member, Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:26 am
Like this comment

Congratulations! A brilliant mind.


steveb
Registered user
South of Midtown
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:31 am
steveb, South of Midtown
Registered user
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:31 am
Like this comment

Awesome.


Science nerd Mom
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:57 am
Science nerd Mom, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:57 am
Like this comment

Congratulations on the honor. Thanks for proving again that women and girls can do math!


JA3+
Crescent Park
on Aug 13, 2014 at 2:04 pm
JA3+, Crescent Park
on Aug 13, 2014 at 2:04 pm
Like this comment

Congratulations! Here's to much future success at the Stanford's Department of Mathematics!


Nora Charles
Registered user
Stanford
on Aug 13, 2014 at 3:08 pm
Nora Charles, Stanford
Registered user
on Aug 13, 2014 at 3:08 pm
Like this comment

Congratulations! I often feel awestruck to be surrounded by such brilliant minds.


Daniel
Community Center
on Aug 13, 2014 at 3:54 pm
Daniel, Community Center
on Aug 13, 2014 at 3:54 pm
Like this comment

Mathematics transcends gender. Congratulations for the great achievements and for bringing honor to Stanford!


Yippeeeee
Old Palo Alto
on Aug 13, 2014 at 5:46 pm
Yippeeeee, Old Palo Alto
on Aug 13, 2014 at 5:46 pm
Like this comment

Hurray! So glad to see an AMERICAN woman win this honor!


musical
Palo Verde
on Aug 13, 2014 at 6:24 pm
musical, Palo Verde
on Aug 13, 2014 at 6:24 pm
Like this comment

Uh... mathematics transcends nationality.


Rupert of henzau
Midtown
on Aug 13, 2014 at 6:40 pm
Rupert of henzau, Midtown
on Aug 13, 2014 at 6:40 pm
Like this comment

Yippeeeeee- hate to burst your bubble, but she is Iranian:
Web Link

But that should not matter. My husband, who is an economist, says that this quite the honor. My DIL is studying to be a mathematician. Maybe someday she will win the prize


Mark Weiss
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 6:49 pm
Mark Weiss, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 6:49 pm
Like this comment

Paul J. Cohen won the Fields Prize in 1966 for work he did on the continuum hypothesis in 1963 while living in Palo Alto, on Princeton Street in College Terrace (actually quite close to where Zuckerberg founded Facebook years later). Cohen's three sons, Steve, Eric and Charles attended Gunn High and were stalwarts in academics, student government, sports, The Gunn Oracle and drama, as a set, individually and collectively, sometimes twinned.

Let's hope the Mirzakhani family can continue to stay in Palo Alto and contribute to community life, and not be displaced by gentrification or forced to "sell-out".

Kudos.

I'm looking forward to either a graphic novel version of her work or a Hollywood pic with, if not Russell Crowe, Matt Damon or Robin Williams than at least Rachel Weisz or Hilary Swank. Anybody? (speaking of topology....)



Dagwood
Menlo Park
on Aug 13, 2014 at 6:58 pm
Dagwood , Menlo Park
on Aug 13, 2014 at 6:58 pm
Like this comment

Paul Cohen had proved the independence of Cantor's continuum hypothesis. Epic. Congratulations to ProfessorMirzakhani on her award but more for her dedication to great mathematics.


Wondering?
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 7:12 pm
Wondering?, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 7:12 pm
Like this comment

Does anyone know how the Fields Medal is awarded? Is there a nominating committee, or do people nominate themselves? Once a list of candidates has been determined, what criteria would the committee use in making the award?


Rupert of henzau
Midtown
on Aug 13, 2014 at 7:14 pm
Rupert of henzau, Midtown
on Aug 13, 2014 at 7:14 pm
Like this comment

Wonderimg:
Web Link


resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:33 pm
resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2014 at 10:33 pm
Like this comment

Paul Cohen later moved to a home which was on the PAST Historic House Holiday Tour one year. I met him a couple times and knew he was in the
Math Dept at Stanford, we talked, but I did not know of his accomplishments until later, he was so unassuming.


Yippeeeee!
Old Palo Alto
on Aug 14, 2014 at 12:40 pm
Yippeeeee!, Old Palo Alto
on Aug 14, 2014 at 12:40 pm
Like this comment

Hey, she works for an AMERICAN school, that is what matters. She is HERE, and she won honors.

[Portion removed.]


Rupert of Henzau
Midtown
on Aug 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm
Rupert of Henzau, Midtown
on Aug 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm
Like this comment

"Hey, she works for an AMERICAN school, that is what matters. She is HERE, and she won honors."
That is not what you were cheering about earlier. But why does it matter what her nationality is and where her school is?

[Portion removed.]


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 12:55 pm
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 12:55 pm
Like this comment

[Post removed.]


Memories
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 1:09 pm
Memories, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 14, 2014 at 1:09 pm
Like this comment

Mark Weiss - you know that Robin Williams is dead, right?


'Taint funny
Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 2:03 pm
'Taint funny, Crescent Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 2:03 pm
Like this comment

[Post removed.]


Barron Parker
Barron Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 2:40 pm
Barron Parker, Barron Park
on Aug 14, 2014 at 2:40 pm
Like this comment

[Post removed.]


Stop the Trolls
Mountain View
on Aug 14, 2014 at 4:12 pm
Stop the Trolls, Mountain View
on Aug 14, 2014 at 4:12 pm
Like this comment

[Post removed.]


Sea-Seelam Reddy
College Terrace
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:53 pm
Sea-Seelam Reddy, College Terrace
on Aug 14, 2014 at 10:53 pm
Like this comment

Congratulations!

You are outstanding!

Respectfully


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