Maryam Mirzakhani, A Candle Illuminating The Dark (Synopsis)

“I think it’s rarely about what you actually learn in class. It’s mostly about things that you stay motivated to go and continue to do on your own.” -Maryam Mirzakhani, on success in mathematics

Only a few weeks ago, pioneering mathematician and the first (and only) woman to win the Fields Medal, Maryam Mirzakhani, tragically died of cancer at the young age of 40. Her brilliant work had applications to a huge variety of problems, from the periodic and/or chaotic motions of billiard balls to the question of designing a room that, even if completely covered by mirrors, could never be illuminated by a single candle.

A room where the walls, even if completely covered with mirrors, would never have every location illuminated, was a mathematically interesting conjecture that was only solved recently. Image credit: Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) / Numberphile / Brady Haran / Howard Masur.

Her life and her work were cut short by disease, but the story of both is truly an inspiration, as well as a testament to the power of creative thinking and the capabilities of the human mind. The pursuit of knowledge knows no national, racial, or gendered borders, and Maryam Mirzakhani’s life was a testament to that.

As a young girl, Maryam Mirzakhani was more interested in reading and literature than she was in mathematics. Once she discovered her true love for mathematics, however, she couldn’t be kept from it. Image credit: Family photo from Maryam Mirzakhani’s childhood.

Paul Halpern, in his own unique style, has written a beautiful testament to the late Maryam Mirzakhani. Get to know her, and her groundbreaking work, today!

4 thoughts on “Maryam Mirzakhani, A Candle Illuminating The Dark (Synopsis)

  1. @Ethan wrote:

    Her brilliant work had applications to a huge variety of problems, from the periodic and/or chaotic motions of billiard balls to the question of designing a room that, even if completely covered by mirrors, could never be illuminated by a single candle.

    The Illuminated Room problem was solved by Roger Penrose over 20 years before Mirzakhani was born using curved mirrors. It was solved by George Tokarsky in 1995 using the 26-sided room in the image you’ve got in the center of your article. His solution had NOTHING to do with Mirzakhani. A more elegant solution was authored by David Castro in 1997 with a 24-sided room that again had nothing to do with anything Mirzakhani was working on as an undergrad in Iran at the time.

    That is not to say Maryam Mirzakhani wasn’t a good mathematician on her own. I know that as a young girl she was a voracious reader who wanted to be a writer.

    Paul Halpern 01-AUG-2017:

    … her voracious reading habit. At that point she imagined herself becoming a writer.

    NY Times 16-JUL-2017:

    As a child, she read voraciously and wanted to become a writer.

  2. Thanks Ethan — she was an amazing mathematician (in spite of what people like denier try to do by diminishing her accomplishments without really understanding them, simply because she wasn’t male. I note both of his objections are discussed in the link, so clearly he didn’t bother to read it. No surprise there.), and was taken too soon.

    You can find some comments by others at this AMS link.

    http://www.ams.org/profession/mirzakhani

  3. Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani died on Friday the 14 July 2017 (19 Shawwal 1438).

    It is a big loss to the Scientific Community!

    Sameen Ahmed Khan,
    First Muslim to be Awarded a Fields Medal,
    Radiance Viewsweekly, Volume LII, No. 26, pp 28-29 (28 September 2014 – 04 October 2014).
    http://radianceweekly.in/portal/issue/bjp-fails-to-respect-sentiments-of-lok-sabha-polls/article/first-muslim-to-be-awarded-a-fields-medal/

    Sameen

    Sameen Ahmed KHAN
    Assistant Professor
    Department of Mathematics and Sciences
    College of Arts and Applied Sciences (CAAS)
    Dhofar University
    Post Box No. 2509
    Postal Code: 211
    Salalah
    Sultanate of OMAN http://www.du.edu.om/
    http://SameenAhmedKhan.webs.com/
    http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=hZvL5eYAAAAJ
    http://www.scopus.com/authid/detail.url?authorId=8452157800

  4. Another Obituary:

    Sameen Ahmed Khan,
    Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017),
    Current Science, 113 (5), 982-983 (10 September 2017).
    (Fortnightly Publication of the Indian Academy of Sciences).
    http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/113/05/0982.pdf

    Sameen

    Sameen Ahmed KHAN
    Assistant Professor
    Department of Mathematics and Sciences
    College of Arts and Applied Sciences (CAAS)
    Dhofar University
    Post Box No. 2509
    Postal Code: 211
    Salalah
    Sultanate of OMAN http://www.du.edu.om/

    http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=hZvL5eYAAAAJ

    http://www.scopus.com/authid/detail.url?authorId=8452157800

    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sameen_Ahmed_Khan

    http://SameenAhmedKhan.webs.com/
    http://www.imsc.res.in/~jagan/

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