The death of Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani has robbed the world of one of the greatest minds of the last 100 years. 

She was the first and only woman to win the prestigious Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize of mathematics.

Mirzakhani’s death, indeed her life, is a reminder of the contribution made by female mathematicians and scientists, from Hypatia in ancient Alexandria to Mary Somerville and Ada Lovelace in the Victorian era.

In the 1960s, as the recent Hollywood movie Hidden Figures reveals, the contribution of black female mathematicians to putting astronauts on the moon is only now being recognised.

In modern times we can also take pride in our own Sarah Flannery from Cork, whose work on algorithms won her, aged 16, the EU Young Scientist of the Year Award in 1999.

Mirzakhani’s work is likely to change our understanding of how the universe was formed. When she won the Fields Medal in 2014 she hoped that it would encourage other female mathematicians and scientists.

If that happens, her contribution will be even greater still.


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