Fields Medal is Nobel Prize of mathematics, and Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman and the first Iranian, to win this prestigious prize.
Congrats to Maryam Mirzakhani, who is the first woman to win the Fields Medal! Basically the Nobel Prize of mathematics, the honor has gone to 56 men since it began back to 1936.
Born and raised in Iran, Mirzakhani studied at Harvard (ironically, President Larry Summers made his infamous comments about how women are naturally bad at math just a year after she finished her degree) and is now a professor at Stanford who works on ”the geometry of moduli space, a complex geometric and algebraic entity that might be described as a universe in which every point is itself a universe,” which I’m sure would sound even more impressive if I understood what it meant. At her girls high school in Tehran, she convinced her principal to start math problem-solving classes like the ones being taught at the boys high school so she could make Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team. She went on to be the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score in the competition.
As Quanta notes, the gender imbalance in Fields Medal recipients probably reflects both the general gender gap in mathematics as well as the fact that the award is for mathematicians younger than 40, “focusing on the very years during which many women dial back their careers to raise children.” But Mirzakhani expects many more women will follow her. “There are really many great female mathematicians doing great things,” she said.
This is great news and I congratulate Maryam Mirzakhani. However, while feminist bloggers are focusing on the woman side of the issue, (and rightfully so), let me focus on the Iranian side of it.
It’s incredibly hard for Iranians to leave Iran and study abroad. There are many obstacles inside, like those studying in public universities need to pay a hefty amount of money to have their certificates and official transcripts, but the main obstacle is from the outside, as the consequence of the sanctions, and the unfriendly relationships between the two countries.
It’s very expensive to apply to American universities, because of the price of dollar, and because of the banking sanctions it’s very hard to make that money reach the university (often increasing the costs), and the there is all the problems of travelling, and then there’s this very tough interviews in the embassies for VISA which causes many students to be rejected after spending so much money and going through so much trouble to be accepted somewhere.
Mirzakhani’s success shows that Iranian students coming to USA have a lot to offer and might enrich the academic environment of USA considerably. I think this is good case to show that we need to soften some of the most draconian sanctions against Iran, especially those that mainly target academics and don’t harm regime officials, and also to work hard for amending the relations so that there are less obstacles before Iranian talented people who want to come to USA and contribute to it.
If she could never leave Iran, a position many Iranian students end up this day, she would never win Fields Medal, and remember, that is a prize which predicts excellence in future as well as rewarding it in the past.
Normalizing relationships and opening the doors is in the interest of both nations.