By Claire Zillman
July 17, 2017

The world lost a genius and a math pioneer on Saturday when Maryam Mirzakhani, the only woman ever to win math’s most prestigious honor, died at age 40. The cause was breast cancer, according to Stanford University, where Mirzakhani served as a professor.

Mirzakhani was a ground breaker in her work in theoretical mathematics, which, Stanford says, “read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics: moduli spaces, Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry.”

The Tehran native was also a trailblazer as a woman in the field, winning the Fields Medal in 2014 and breaking the award’s streak of 52 consecutive male recipients. The honor is math’s highest, given out every four years with up to four mathematicians chosen at a time.

Mirzakhani was also the first girl ever named to Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team—she won gold medals in the mid-1990s—and last year she was the first Iranian woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences for her “distinguished achievement in original research.” She was in good company as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham Bell are all past honorees.

When she won the Fields Medal three years ago, Mirzakhani acknowledged the unparalleled path she’d plowed and recognized what it might mean for girls in the future: “I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Mirzakhani told the Stanford Report. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”



Fortune’s annual three-day Brainstorm Tech technology conference kicks off today in Aspen, Co. Be sure to tune into the livestream here to see interviews with Nest Labs CTO Yoky Matsuoka and Instagram COO Marne Levine. They both take the stage on Day One.


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