There’s been a persistent (though obviously false) cultural perception that women just aren’t any good at math. Which is why, historically, women have been led towards the humanities—leaving the “hard” stuff like science and numbers for the boys. But all that is changing now, thankfully, right before our eyes. The next time anyone tells you girls aren’t as good as boys at math you can counter with a single name: Maryam Mirzakhani. This week, the Stanford professor won the Fields Medal, the most prestigious awards in mathematics.
Mirzakhani, a 37-year-old Stanford professor, is the first woman to win the prize, which is widely considered to be akin to the Nobel Prize of Mathematics. She grew up in Iran, and was recognized for her brilliance in the field very early on, winning gold medals as a teenager at both the 1994 and 1995 International Mathematical Olympiad (and rocked a perfect score in ’95).
The Fields Institute recognized Mirzakhani particularly for her work on dynamics, including research on the symmetry of curved surfaces. With the award, Mirzakhani receives a medal and a prize of $15,000, Canadian.
But the value of the prize is much greater than that. There are very few female role models in the field of hard mathematics, thanks in part to women being so long shut out of the discipline or otherwise discouraged away from that academic field. Mirzakhani is an inspiration to women everywhere, and particularly to girls growing up with an interest in math and technology.
“I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani said in a statement after her win. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”
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