SEOUL, South Korea - An Iranian-born mathematician has become the first woman to win a prestigious Fields Medal, widely viewed as the Nobel Prize of mathematics.
Maryam Mirzakhani, a Harvard-educated mathematician and professor at Stanford University in California, was one of the four winners announced by the International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) at its conference in Seoul on Wednesday.
"This is a great honour. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians," Mirzakhani said in a press release from Stanford University where she currently teaches.
"I am sure there will be many more women achieving this accolade in coming years," she added.
The award recognised Mirzakhani's sophisticated and highly original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces such as spheres.
Although her work is considered "pure mathematics" and is mostly theoretical, it has implications for physics and quantum field theory, as well as for the study of prime numbers and cryptography.
"Fluent in a remarkably diverse range of mathematical techniques and disparate mathematical cultures, she embodies a rare combination of superb technical ability, bold ambition, far-reaching vision, and deep curiosity," the ICM said in a statement.
Mirzakhani was born in Tehran in 1977 and earned her PhD in 2004 from Harvard University.
She had previously won the 2009 Blumenthal Award for the Advancement of Research in Pure Mathematics and the 2013 Satter Prize of the American Mathematical Society.
The other three winners this year were Artur Avila of France, Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University in New Jersey, and Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick in Britain.
The Fields Medal is given out every four years, often to multiple winners under 40.
With no Nobel Prize for mathematics, the Fields Medal is seen as the top global award for the discipline. The medals were presented by South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.