Maryam Mirzakhani

Last updated on 20 July 2017

Maryam Mirzakhani (Persian: مریم میرزاخانی‎‎‎, pronounced [mæɾjæm miːɾzɑːxɑːniː]; 3 May 1977 – 14 July 2017) was an Iranian[5][6][2] mathematician and a professor of mathematics at Stanford University.[7][8][9] Her research topics include Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry.[2]

On 13 August 2014, Mirzakhani was honored with the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics.[10][11] She thus became both the first woman and the first Iranian to be honored with the award.[12] The award committee cited her work in "the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces".[13]

On 14 July 2017, Mirzakhani died of breast cancer at the age of 40.[14]

Maryam Mirzakhani 2014.jpg
Maryam Mirzakhani 2014.jpg

Early life and education

Mirzakhani was born on 3 May 1977 in Tehran, Iran. Her father Ahmad is an electrical engineer.[15] She attended Farzanegan School there, part of the National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents. In 1994, Mirzakhani achieved the gold medal level in the International Mathematical Olympiad, the first female Iranian student to do so.[16] In the 1995 International Mathematical Olympiad, she became the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score and to win two gold medals.[17][18][19]

She obtained her BSc in mathematics (1999) from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. She then went to the United States for graduate work, earning her PhD in 2004 from Harvard University, where she worked under the supervision of the Fields Medalist Curtis T. McMullen.

Career

Mirzakhani was a 2004 research fellow of the Clay Mathematics Institute and a professor at Princeton University.[20] In 2008, she became a professor at Stanford University.[13][21]

Research work

Maryam Mirzakhani, August 2014

Mirzakhani made several contributions to the theory of moduli spaces of Riemann surfaces. In her early work, Mirzakhani discovered a formula expressing the volume of a moduli space with a given genus as a polynomial in the number of boundary components. This led her to obtain a new proof for the formula discovered by Edward Witten and Maxim Kontsevich on the intersection numbers of tautological classes on moduli space,[7] as well as an asymptotic formula for the growth of the number of simple closed geodesics on a compact hyperbolic surface, generalizing the theorem of the three geodesics for spherical surfaces.[22] Her subsequent work focused on Teichmüller dynamics of moduli space. In particular, she was able to prove the long-standing conjecture that William Thurston's earthquake flow on Teichmüller space is ergodic.[23]

Most recently as of 2014, with Alex Eskin and with input from Amir Mohammadi, Mirzakhani proved that complex geodesics and their closures in moduli space are surprisingly regular, rather than irregular or fractal.[24][25] The closures of complex geodesics are algebraic objects defined in terms of polynomials and therefore they have certain rigidity properties, which is analogous to a celebrated result that Marina Ratner arrived at during the 1990s.[25] The International Mathematical Union said in its press release that, "It is astounding to find that the rigidity in homogeneous spaces has an echo in the inhomogeneous world of moduli space."[25]

Maryam Mirzakhani s Pic on a Iranian Newspaper.jpg
Mirzakhani's picture on the Persian newspaper of economy Donya-e-Eqtesad. The newspaper named Mirzakhani as "Iranian Queen of Math".

Mirzakhani was awarded the Fields Medal in 2014 for "her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces".[26] The award was made in Seoul at the International Congress of Mathematicians on 13 August.[27] At the time of the award, Jordan Ellenberg explained her research to a popular audience:

[Her] work expertly blends dynamics with geometry. Among other things, she studies billiards. But now, in a move very characteristic of modern mathematics, it gets kind of meta: 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 ... This isn't the kind of thing you do to win at pool, but it's the kind of thing you do to win a Fields Medal. And it's what you need to do in order to expose the dynamics at the heart of geometry; for there's no question that they're there.[28]

In 2014, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran congratulated her for winning the topmost world mathematics prize.[29]

Mirzakhani has an Erdős number of 3.[30]

Personal life

Mirzakhani was married in 2005 to Jan Vondrák, a Czech theoretical computer scientist at IBM and applied mathematician who is an associate professor at Stanford University;[31][32] their daughter is named Anahita.[33] As Vondrák was not a Muslim, the Iranian government did not recognise their marriage.[34] She lived in Palo Alto, California.[35]

Mirzakhani described herself as a "slow" mathematician, saying that

You have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math.

To solve problems, Mirzakhani would draw doodles on sheets of paper, and write mathematical formulas around the drawings. Her daughter described her mother's work as "painting".

I don't have any particular recipe [for developing new proofs] ... 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.

— Maryam Mirzakhani, quoted in Stanford News[36]

Death and legacy

Mirzakhani was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.[37] In 2016 the cancer spread to her bone marrow and liver,[36][38] and she died on 14 July 2017 at the age of 40 at a hospital in California.[36][39][40][41]

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and other officials published condolences messages and praised Mirzakhani's scientific achievements. Rouhani said in his message that "unprecedented brilliance of this creative scientist and modest human being, who made Iran’s name resonate in the world's scientific forums, was a turning point in showing the great will of Iranian women and young people on the path towards reaching the peaks of glory and in various international arenas."[42] Sharif University, the place that Mirzakhani studied that announced that it will be renamed it's faculty of mathematics to "Mirzakhani".

Upon her death, several Iranian newspapers, along with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, broke taboo and published photos of Mirzakhani with her hair uncovered, a gesture which went widely noticed in the press and on social media.[43][44][45][46] Mirzakhani's death has also renewed debates within Iran regarding matrilineal citizenship for children of mixed-nationality parentage; Fars news agency reported that, on the heels of Mirzakhani's death, 60 Iranian MPs urged the speeding up of an amendment to a law that would allow children of Iranian mothers married to foreigners to be given Iranian nationality, in order to make it easier for Mirzakhani's daughter to visit Iran. Mirzakhani had previously applied for citizenship for her daughter.[43][45][47][48][49][50]

Awards and honors

References

  1. ^ a b "Private Funeral of Professor Mirzakhani to be held in the United States", Iranian Students' News Agency (in Persian), 19 July 2017, 96042715699, retrieved 19 July 2017
  2. ^ a b c d e f Mirzakhani, Maryam. "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 November 2005. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
  3. ^ Valette, Alain. "The Fields Medalists 2014" (PDF). Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Institut de mathématiques, Université de Neuchâtel. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  4. ^ Jonathan, Webb (2014). "First female winner for Fields maths medal". BBC News. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
  5. ^ "Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman to win maths' Fields Medal, dies – BBC News". Bbc.com. 2014-08-12. Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  6. ^ Chang, Kenneth (16 July 2017). "Maryam Mirzakhani, Only Woman to Win a Fields Medal, Dies at 40". The New York Times.
  7. ^ a b Mirzakhani, Maryam (2007). "Weil-Petersson volumes and intersection theory on the moduli space of curves" (PDF). Journal of the American Mathematical Society. 20: 1–23. MR 2257394. doi:10.1090/S0894-0347-06-00526-1.
  8. ^ Mirzakhani, Maryam (January 2007). "Simple geodesics and Weil-Petersson volumes of moduli spaces of bordered Riemann surfaces". Inventiones Mathematicae. Springer-Verlag. 167 (1): 179–222. ISSN 1432-1297. doi:10.1007/s00222-006-0013-2.
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  23. ^ Mirzakhani, M. (2008). "Ergodic Theory of the Earthquake Flow". International Mathematics Research Notices. 2008. MR 2416997. doi:10.1093/imrn/rnm116.
  24. ^ Eskin, Alex; Mirzakhani, Maryam; Mohammadi, Amir (2015). "Isolation, equidistribution, and orbit closures for the SL(2,R) action on moduli space". Annals of Mathematics. 182 (2): 673–721. doi:10.4007/annals.2015.182.2.7.
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External links

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