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Stanford professor 1st woman to win top math prize

Sunday - 8/17/2014, 1:40pm  ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- An Iranian-born Stanford University professor is the first woman to win math's highest honor, the Fields Medal.

The International Mathematics Union awarded the prize to Maryam Mirzakhani and three others at a meeting in Seoul on Wednesday.

The prize and $13,700 is awarded every four years to mathematicians 40 years old or younger. It was established in 1936.

Mirzakhani, 37, won for complex theoretical math on the symmetry of curved surfaces, including spheres and even doughnuts.

"This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians," she said in a statement released by Stanford. "I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years."

Mirzakhani was born and raised in Tehran, Iran, where she earned her bachelor's degree. She got her doctorate at Harvard University.

As a young girl, she wanted to become a writer. But by high school, she developed an affinity for solving mathematical problems.

"It is fun -- it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case," she said. "I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path."

The other winners are Artur Avila, a Brazilian-born professor at the Institute of Mathematics of Jussieu in Paris, Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University and Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick in England.

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