Stanford professor Maryam Mirzakhani, the first and only woman to win the prestigious Fields Medal prize for mathematics, died Saturday after four years with breast cancer, the university announced.
Her friend Firouz Michael Naderi, an Iranian-American NASA scientist, said on Instagram, "A light was turned off today". Later he twitted: A genius? Yes.
Before her death from breast cancer which had spread to her bones, Mirzakhani was a professor at Stanford University, has worked at Princeton before securing a professorship at Stanford in 2008.
The two times gold medal victor in the International Mathematical Olympiad received her Bachelor of Science in mathematics from Iran's Sharif University of Technology in 1999 and earned a PhD degree in mathematics from Harvard University in 2004.
In recent years, she worked with Alex Eskin at the University of Chicago to investigate the trajectory of a billiard ball as it bounces around a polygonal table.
Last year, she became the first Iranian woman to be elected to the US National Academy of Sciences.
Firouz Naderi’s post in Instagram in reaction to Mirzakhani’s death
She left Iran to pursue her post-graduate degree in the United States, earning a PhD from Harvard in 2004.
Mirzakhani enjoyed pure mathematics because of its "elegance and longevity", she said. She said in interviews that she liked the interdisciplinary connections and implications of her work.
Mirzakhani studied the complexities of curved surfaces such as spheres, doughnut shapes and hyperbolas.
"It's like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out", she added. She won two gold medals at the International Mathematical Olympiad, bringing home the top honors in 1994 and 1995.
The paper she completed based on that exercise was published in 2013. Kerckhoff is a mathematics professor at Stanford and was one of Mirzakhani's collaborators.
Mirzakhani is survived by her husband and a daughter.