Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani, the first and only woman to win the prestigious Fields medal, died Saturday at the age of 40. According to The Guardian, Mirzakhani had been suffering from breast cancer.
The Fields medal is considered to be the highest honor a mathematician can receive, equivalent in prestige to the Nobel Prize. It is awarded once every four years to mathematicians under the age of 40, to honor and encourage the great minds of the future. Mirzakhani won the award in 2014, “for her work on complex geometry and dynamic systems,” according to The Guardian. No other woman has received the Fields medal since its inception in 1936.
Mirzakhani was born in Tehran in 1977. Her early childhood was marked by the Iran-Iraq War, but the conflict had ended by the time Mirzakhani entered middle school, according to The New York Times. In a Fields Medal video, Mirzakhani described herself as being part of the “lucky generation” because she came of age in a time of stability.
She went on to study at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, and later attended graduate school at Harvard. She worked as a professor at Princeton, and later at Stanford.
“Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science,” Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement. “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. 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.”
Watch the Fields Medal video profile of Mirzakhani’s life below.