Go Dr. Mirzakhani!

mgypm90For those us with a built-in, inexplicable bias that somehow men are better at math than women…

Think again.

For the first time in history, a woman has become the recipient of the Fields Medal, the top award in the field. It’s the mathematical equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Or an Oscar. Or the Wimbledon trophy.

Her name is Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani and she’s the first woman to win the Fields Medal since it was introduced in 1936. Awarded every 4 years to the world’s top mathematicians, 52 men have previously gone home with the award since it’s inception.

You might be wondering what she did to win the prize?

“What Maryam discovered is that in another regime, the dynamical orbits are tightly constrained to follow algebraic laws,” said Curtis T. McMullen, a professor at Harvard who was Dr. Mirzakhani’s doctoral adviser. “These dynamical systems describe surfaces with many handles, like pretzels, whose shape is evolving over time by twisting and stretching in a precise way. They are related to billiards on tables that are not rectangular but still polygonal, like the regular octagon.”

Simple. You know, “like pretzels…”

Here’s what Ingrid Daubechies, president of the International Mathematical Union, had to say about the historic first:

“All researchers in mathematics will tell you that there is no difference between the math done by a woman or a man, and of course the decision of the Fields Medal committee is based only on the results of each candidate,” she wrote. “That said, I bet the vast majority of the mathematicians in the world will be happy that it will no longer be possible to say that ‘the Fields Medal has always been awarded only to men.’ ”

As for Dr. Mirzakhani herself, here was her take:

“This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians,” Dr. Mirzakhani was quoted as saying in a Stanford news release on Tuesday. “I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”

May it be so. And as for the myth that men are better at math than girls?

Thanks to Dr. Mirzakhani…

It just doesn’t add up.

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