Maryam Mirzakhani: A mathematic legend who will not be forgotten

Last month, we lost STEM legend way too soon. Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian mathematician who was the only woman to win a Fields Medal, died of breast cancer at only 40 years old. It was a devastating loss, and we hope that Maryam’s legacy will continue to inspire girls worldwide, and encourage them to pursue STEM careers.

The Fields Medal is awarded every four years to a select few mathematicians under the age of 40. It is considered the equivalent of the “Nobel Prize” for mathematicians, and one of the highest honors that can be received. Maryam won the award in 2014 for her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.

Jordan Ellenberg explained her research to a popular audience at the time of the win as follows:

[Her] work expertly blends dynamics with geometry. Among other things, she studies billiards. But now, in a move very characteristic of modern mathematics, it gets kind of meta: She considers not just one billiard table, but the universe of all possible billiard tables. And the kind of dynamics she studies doesn’t directly concern the motion of the billiards on the table, but instead a transformation of the billiard table itself, which is changing its shape in a rule-governed way; if you like, the table itself moves like a strange planet around the universe of all possible tables … This isn’t the kind of thing you do to win at pool, but it’s the kind of thing you do to win a Fields Medal. And it’s what you need to do in order to expose the dynamics at the heart of geometry; for there’s no question that they’re there.

Maryam was clearly a brilliant mathematician, but she also represented progress for woman in a historically male dominated field. Evelyn Lamb of Scientific American noted that “the loss feels personal to many women in mathematics.” In her article covering Maryam’s passing, she quotes Ingrid Daubechies, a math professor at Duke University – “My mailbox is full of messages from other women. Women mathematicians all over the world are e-mailing each other, trying to comfort each other. It is heartbreaking that we had to lose a gifted mathematician and wonderful role model so soon.

Maryam leaves behind an inspirational legacy and her impact is undeniable. She paved the way for more women to follow in her footsteps, and set an example that will continue to help efforts to close the gender gap in STEM. We thank Maryam for her amazing achievements and pioneering spirit, and we at ChickTech will honor her legacy by telling her story to new generations and motivating more girls to enter the field.