Maryam Mirzakhani, the first and only woman to receive the Fields Medal – the highest honor in mathematics – has died at age 40 of breast cancer.
The Iranian-born mathematician was a trailblazer, shattering ceilings for women around the world when she was awarded the Fields Medal, which many view as the equivalent to the Noble Prize, in 2014 at age 37, Reuters reports.
Mirzakhani had been a professor at Stanford University since 2008. The university announced her death on their website.
“Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne in a statement.
“Maryam was a brilliant mathematical theorist, and also a humble person who accepted honors only with the hope that it might encourage others to follow her path. Her contributions as both a scholar and a role model are significant and enduring, and she will be dearly missed here at Stanford and around the world.”
The university also featured a quote of from the mathematician in a Twitter post, “You have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math.”
The mathematician came to the U.S. in 1999 to pursue graduate studies at Harvard University. Her research interests included the movement of billiard balls across surfaces and the theoretical study of complex geometric shapes, the Washington Post reported.
“She has a fearless ambition when it comes to mathematics,” her Harvard mentor, Curtis McMullen, a past Fields Medal winner, told Quanta Magazine in 2014.
In 2014, Mirzakhani received the Fields Medal, awarded by the International Congress of Mathematicians, for her work in the symmetry of curved surfaces. The coveted prize is awarded only every four years to honor mathematicians under 40 who make significant inroads in their respective studies.
Universities around the world, as well as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, have been paying tribute to the STEM icon. Iranian president Rouhani said that Mirzakhani’s “doleful passing” has caused “great sorrow,” Al-Jazeera reports.
Rouhani also posted a picture on Instagram of the mathematician – with and without a veil.
Firouz Naderi, a friend of Mirzakhani, and former director of Solar Systems Exploration at NASA, posted a picture with the touching caption, “A beautiful mind.” In another statement, he also called her a genius and a “daughter, a mother and a wife.”
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Born in 1977 and raised in Tehran, Iran, she attended an all-girls high school in Iran, where she gained recognition as a teenager in the 1994 and 1995 competitions of the International Mathematical Olympiad.
“It is fun; it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case,” she said in 2014.