The Fields Medal, awarded every four years to between two and four scholars under the age of 40, is math’s highest prize. It was first given out in 1936—and news has broken that, this year, Stanford professor Maryam Mirzakhani has become the first woman to win the prize. Per this profile in Quanta Magazine, Mirzakhani was raised and received her undergraduate degree in Iran before attending graduate school at Harvard, where she finished her doctoral thesis in 2004. She’s won the Fields for her work with the “dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces” which—and I apologize to mathematicians out there for whatever I do to butcher this description—roughly means that she considers abstract questions related to non-Euclidean entities such as, for example, the surface of a pretzel.
Here’s something from the Quanta piece that may or may not make you feel better about your own brain:
Mirzakhani likes to describe herself as slow. Unlike some mathematicians who solve problems with quicksilver brilliance, she gravitates toward deep problems that she can chew on for years. “Months or years later, you see very different aspects” of a problem, she said. There are problems she has been thinking about for more than a decade. “And still there’s not much I can do about them,” she said.