May 12, the Birthdate of Maryam Mirzakhani: A Celebration for Women in Mathematics

 

At the 2018 World Meeting for Women in Mathematics, (WM)2, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Women’s Committee of the Iranian Mathematical Society proposed designating Maryam Mirzakhani’s birthday (May 12) as a day for celebrating women in mathematics. Globally, several organizations for women in mathematics support the initiative, including European Women in Mathematics, the Association for Women in Mathematics, the African Women in Mathematics Association, the Colectivo de Mujeres Matemáticas de Chile (Collective of Women Mathematicians in Chile) and Indian Women and Mathematics.

Once dreamed of being a writer, Maryam let her passion for Mathematics write the story of her life. At the age of 37, she became the First Women and the First Iranian to win the Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics. She was known to her colleagues as a virtuoso in the dynamics and geometry of complex surfaces— “science-fiction mathematics,” as called by her thesis adviser, Curtis McMullen. However, the praise to the “master of curved spaces” is not limited to her talent in Mathematics but her personality. When Harvard’s Curtis McMullen, delivered the Fields Medal laudation on her work, at the 2014 International Congress of Mathematicians, in Seoul, Mirzakhani sat in the front row with her daughter and her husband, the Stanford computer scientist Jan Vondrák. Looking out into the audience, McMullen noticed that Mirzakhani wasn’t paying full attention to her moment of glory, instead allowing herself to be distracted by very excited Anahita. “Some scientists and mathematicians engage in a problem to go beyond what other people have done; they measure themselves against others, Maryam was not like that. She would engage directly with the scientific challenge, with the mathematics, no matter how hard it was, and really go deep into the heart of the matter.”, McMullen told the New Yorker.

She received the Medal when she had just finished a grueling treatment for breast cancer. In 2016 and at the age of 40, the cancer returned and made it impossible for her to continue.