Maryam Mirzakhani (1977–2017)
Maryam Mirzakhani was one of the greatest mathematicians of her generation. She made monumental contributions to the study of the dynamics and geometry of mathematical objects called Riemann surfaces. Just as impressive as her theorems was her ability to push a field in a new direction by always providing a fresh point of view. Her raw talent was rare, even among the most celebrated mathematicians, and she was known for having a taste for difficult problems.
She became an icon without wanting to be. She was the first woman and first Iranian to win the Fields Medal, considered the highest honour in mathematics. For women, Mirzakhani was a role model, pursuing a successful career in a male-dominated field. For Iran, she represented the country's tradition of intellectualism. And for young scientists, she was a calming force that rose above the pressures of academia. She died aged 40 from breast cancer on 14 July.
Mirzakhani was born in May 1977 in Tehran. She attended school there and twice won gold medals for Iran in the International Mathematical Olympiad. Being hailed as a genius allowed her to pursue pure mathematics — not an easy career choice for women in Iran.