The International Congress of Mathematicians, based in Seoul, South Korea, awards the prestigious distinction every four years. All previous 52 winner winners have been male, New Scientist reported.
Mirzakhani was born and raised in Tehran, Iran’s capital. In 1995, she broke another barrier, when as a high school student she became the first Iranian to earn a perfect score in the International Mathematics Olympiad. After studying in Iran, Mirzakhani went on to earn her Ph.D. at Harvard University. She currently teaches mathematics at Stanford University in California. Her work primarily focuses on studying geometric structures and deformations.
In an interview with the Clay Mathematics Institute, republished in The Guardian, Mirzakhani described a happy childhood in Iran and credited her supportive family for enabling her professional success.
“I was very lucky in many ways. The [Iran-Iraq] war ended when I finished elementary school; I couldn’t have had the great opportunities that I had if I had been born 10 years earlier…
…As a graduate student at Harvard, I had to explain quite a few times that I was allowed to attend a university as a woman in Iran. While it is true that boys and girls go to separate schools up to high school, this does not prevent them from participating say in the Olympiads or the summer camps.”
Mirzakhani also said that as a child she wanted to be a writer, not a mathematician, and urged others not to discount their math potential.
“I don’t think that everyone should become a mathematician, but I do believe that many students don’t give mathematics a real chance. I did poorly in math for a couple of years in middle school; I was just not interested in thinking about it. I can see that without being excited mathematics can look pointless and cold. The beauty of mathematics only shows itself to more patient followers.”