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Maryam Mirzakhani
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    (May 3, 1977-July 15, 2017)
    Born in Tehran, Iran
    Professor at Princeton and Stanford University
    Won the Fields Medal -- considered the most prestigious award in mathematics – for work on ‘the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces’ (2014)
    She doodled on her papers while working out proofs.
    We would love to explain just what she did to win the Fields Medal, but we keep running into terms like Teichmüller space, Ergodic theory and sympletic geometry and have to take a couple of aspirin.
    We realized how completely hopeless it was after trying to grok the following explanation for a popular audience: ‘Among other things, she studies billiards. [But] she considers not just one billiard table, but the universe of all possible billiard tables. And the kind of dynamics she studies doesn't directly concern the motion of the billiards on the table, but instead a transformation of the billiard table itself, which is changing its shape in a rule-governed way; if you like, the table itself moves like a strange planet around the universe of all possible tables.’
    She twice won gold medals at the International Mathematical Olympiad, getting a perfect score the second time (1994-95).
    She was the first woman to win the Fields Medal.
    Her Harvard advisor, Curtis McMullen, said, ‘There are mathematicians brilliant at posing problems and mathematicians brilliant at solving problems. Maryam is the rare mathematician who excels at both.’
    She said, ’The beauty of mathematics only shows itself to more patient followers.’

Credit: C. Fishel

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