Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, First Woman to Win Fields Medal, Dies Age 40

Maryam Mirzakhani, Fields Prize winner, teaches a class at Stanford. screengrab

Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Fields Medal, has died in the U.S.

The 40-year-old reportedly had breast cancer that spread to her bones.

"A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart... gone far too soon," her friend, NASA scientist Firouz Naderi, posted on Instagram.

Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani has died after a long battle with cancer. Stanford University

In a statement, Stanford University said Mirzakhani "died early Saturday after a long battle with cancer. Mirzakhani was 40 years old."

It described her as "ambitious, resolute and fearless in the face of problems others would not, or could not, tackle."

The Fields Medal is awarded every four years to between two and four mathematicians under the age of 40. Mirzakhani won the prize in 2014 for her work on geometry and dynamical systems.

She was also the first Iranian to win the prize.

In a 2014 interview with the Guardian, she described the excitement and challenge of mathematics.

"Of course, the most rewarding part is the "Aha" moment, the excitement of discovery and enjoyment of understanding something new—the feeling of being on top of a hill and having a clear view. But most of the time, doing mathematics for me is like being on a long hike with no trail and no end in sight," she remarked.

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said: "Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science."

"Maryam was a brilliant mathematical theorist, and also a humble person who accepted honors only with the hope that it might encourage others to follow her path. Her contributions as both a scholar and a role model are significant and enduring, and she will be dearly missed here at Stanford and around the world."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif paid tribute to her.

"The news of young Iranian genius and math professor Maryam Mirzakhani's passing has brought a deep pang of sorrow to me and all Iranians who are proud of their eminent and distinguished scientists," Zarif posted in Persian on his Instagram account, reported the Tehran Times.

"I do offer my heartfelt condolences upon the passing of this lady scientist to all Iranians worldwide, her grieving family and the scientific community," he added.

Mirzakhani was born in Tehran in 1977, and was twice awarded the International Mathematical Olympiad's gold medal in her youth.

She earned a doctoral degree from Harvard University in 2004 and became full professor of mathematics at Stanford at the age of 31.