Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iranian Leaders Among Those Mourning Death Of Famed Mathematician

Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani speaks at an awards ceremony for mathematicians in Seoul in 2014.

Iranian leaders were among those mourning the loss of Maryam Mirzakhani, the Iranian-born Stanford University professor and only woman to win the most prestigious international mathematical prize.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on July 15 praised Mirzakhani, who died earlier in the day at age 40 after a long battle with cancer.

She died in an undisclosed U.S. hospital after the cancer she had been fighting for four years spread to her bone marrow, Iranian media reported.

Mirzakhani in 2014 won the Fields Medal, the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize that is awarded every four years by the International Congress of Mathematicians.

The medal is given to people aged 40 or younger who make major contributions to math. She received hers for her "striking and highly original contributions to geometry and dynamical systems," the committee said at the time.

Rohani issued a statement saying that Mirzakhani's "doleful passing" has caused "great sorrow."

According to Iranian state media, Rohani praised the "unprecedented brilliance of this creative scientist and modest human being, who made Iran's name resonate in the world's scientific forums.”

Zarif said on Instagram that her death was a cause of grief for all Iranians.

Firouz Naderi, a friend and former director of Solar Systems Exploration at NASA, announced her death on Instagram, saying, "A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart… gone far too soon."

He added, "A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother, and a wife."

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said Mirzakhani's impact "will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science.”

Iranian media paid tribute to Mirzakhani on July 16, with some newspapers even breaking with tradition and publishing Mirzakhani’s picture without her hair covered by a hijab -- mandatory for women in public since the Islamic republic's 1979 revolution.

Hamshahri, a centrist newspaper owned by the municipality of Tehran, and reformist economic daily Donyaye Eghtesad both used Mirzakhani’s portraits without a hijab.

"The Queen of Mathematics' Eternal Departure," Donyaye Eghtesad's headline read.

The reformist Shargh daily published a photo of Mirzakhani wearing a hat, while some others used photo editing to fade her signature short hair into a black backdrop.

Other newspapers used older photographs or sketches showing Mirzakhani wearing a headscarf.

Only ultraconservative newspapers Resalat and Keyhan did not feature Mirzakhani’s picture on the front page on July 16, with the latter covering her story in an inside page with a photo of her wearing a hijab.

When Mirzakhani won the Fields Medal in 2014, Iranian newspapers used every means possible to avoid showing her hair, including publishing old images of her in Iran with covered hair or drawing her picture with an improvised head scarf.

Mirzakhani was born in Tehran in 1977 and developed a love for math as she started high school.

As teenager, she won gold medals at both the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiads, finishing with a perfect score in the 1995 event. She was the first Iranian to win the award.

She studied mathematics at Sharif University in Iran and earned a PhD degree from Harvard in 2004.

She taught at Princeton University before moving to Stanford in California in 2008.

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrak, and a daughter, Anahita. According to Iranian state media, her parents traveled to the United States earlier in the week to be with their daughter.

With reporting by dpa, AP, Press TV, AFP, Reuters, and The Washington Post
  • 16x9 Image


    RFE/RL journalists report the news in 27 languages in 23 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. We provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.