For nearly 80 years, the International Mathematical Union has been offering the Fields Medal every four years to an outstanding human in the field of mathematics. For nearly 80 years, the recipient has been a man, until 2014.
It was at that point that things changed, at least in regards to the gender of the winner. Maryam Mirzakhani, a professor at Stanford University, was recognized for "her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces," and promptly received the award.
"It is fun – it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case," she explained to the Stanford Report. "I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path.”
She received her undergraduate degree at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran and earned her PhD at Harvard University while studying under Curtis McMullen, who was awarded the Fields Medal himself back in 1998.
It was her work finding the volume of moduli spaces in complex one-dimensional planes known as Riemann surfaces that won her the award, however, her interests in mathematics span well beyond her expertise.
"I don't have any particular recipe [for creating new proofs],” she stated. "It is the reason why doing research is challenging as well as attractive. It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out."
She continues that it is "a great honor" and goes on to say she "will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians," adding "I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”