Highest Math Honor Is Awarded To A Woman For The First Time

Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman ever to win the Fields Medal. She received this honor for her work in complex geometry.

Highest Math Honor Is Awarded To A Woman For The First Time
IMU / Simons Foundation

For the first time in its more than 80-year history, the Fields Medal is being awarded to a woman.

In what The Guardian described as a moment that ​"will go down in history as the moment one of the last bastions of male dominance fell", Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani won math's highest honor for her work in complex geometry. 

Established by Canadian mathematician John Fields, the Fields Medal is awarded every four years by the International Mathematical Union "to recognize outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work." It comes with a $15,000 Canadian dollar prize. Candidates must be younger than 40 years old so as to encourage the "promise of future achievement."

Mirzakhani, born and raised in Tehran, originally had no intention of becoming a mathematician.


MIRZAKHANI VIA SIMONS FOUNDATION AND INTERNATIONAL MATHEMATICAL UNION: "I wasn't always excited about math; I was more excited about reading novels and I thought I'd become a writer one day." 


But she excelled in math in high school and eventually earned her PhD in mathematics from Harvard in 2004.

In Mirzakhani's profile for Quanta Magazine, University of Chicago mathematics professor Benson Farb is quoted as saying of her work, "The majority of mathematicians will never produce something as good — and that's what she did in her thesis." Farb also described one of Mirzakhani's more recent works as "the theorem of the decade" in her field.

Mirzakhani's achievement has been described by members of the international mathematics community as long overdue.

Professor Dame Frances Kirwan, a selection committee member from the University of Oxford, told the BBC"I hope that this award will inspire lots more girls and young women, in this country and around the world, to believe in their own abilities and aim to be the Fields Medallists of the future."

Mirzakhani told Quanta she has no desire to become the face of women in mathematics and expects there will be many women medalists in the future.