Maryam Mirzakhani was the first woman to be awarded the Fields Medal, the highest award given in mathematics (comparable to a Nobel Prize). She was born in Tehran, Iran. During her high school years she won gold medals at the 1994 and 1995 International Mathematical Olympiads (with a perfect score on the 1995 exam), then earned her B.S. degree in mathematics in 1999 from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. In 2004 she received her Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University with a thesis in hyperbolic geometry entitled "Simple Geodesics on Hyperbolic Surfaces and Volume of the Moduli Space of Curves". Her work solved several deep problems about hyperbolic surfaces and resulted in three papers published in the top journals of mathematics. Her adviser was Curtis McMullen, who won a Fields Medal in 1998.
From 2004 to 2008 Mirzakhani was a Clay Mathematics Institute Research Fellow and assistant professor of mathematics at Princeton University. In 2006 she was recognized as one of Popular Science's "Brilliant 10" extraordinary scientists. In 2008 she joined the faculty at Stanford University as a full professor of mathematics.
In August 2014, Mirzakhani was awarded the Fields Medal "for her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces." The citation says that she "has made stunning advances in the theory of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces, and led the way to new frontiers in the area. Her insights have integrated methods from diverse fields, such as algebraic geometry, topology and probability theory." Previously she had also won a 2014 Clay Research Award, the 2013 AMS Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in Mathematics, and the 2009 AMS Blumenthal Award.
Extensive biographical information about her life and her mathematical accomplishments can be found in the references below.
"Maryam Mirzakhani: 1977-2017," Communicated by Hélène Barcelo and Stephen Kennedy, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Vol. 65, No. 10 (November 2018), 1221-1247. Friends, colleagues and collaborators celebrate the life and exposit the extraordinary mathematical results of Maryam Mirzakhani.