Date: Aug 13, 2014 7:44 PM Author: Jerry P. Becker Subject: First female winner for Fields maths medal ***********************************

From The BBC News [Science & Environment]

Tuesday, August 12, 2014. See

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-28739373

-------------------------------------------------

NOTE: Interesting video and photos are given at the website

***********************************

First female winner for Fields maths medal

By Jonathan Webb

[Science reporter, BBC News]

An Iranian mathematician working in the US has

become the first ever female winner of the

celebrated Fields Medal.

In a landmark hailed as "long overdue", Prof

Maryam Mirzakhani was recognised for her work on

complex geometry.

Four of the medals were presented in Seoul at the

International Congress of Mathematicians, held

every four years.

Also among the winners was Prof Martin Hairer

from the University of Warwick, UK, whose work on

randomness could prove useful for climate

modelling.

Awarded by a committee from the International

Mathematical Union (IMU), the Fields Medal is

regarded as something akin to a Nobel Prize for

maths. It was established by Canadian

mathematician John Fields and comes with a 15,000

Canadian dollar (£8,000) cash prize.

First awarded in 1936 and then every four years

since 1950, the medal is awarded to between two

and four researchers, who must be no older than

40, because Fields wanted to encourage the

winners to strive for "further achievement" as

well as recognise their success.

The other two medals were won by Dr Artur Avila,

a Brazilian mathematician who earned his PhD in

dynamical systems at the age of 21, and Prof

Manjul Bhargava, a Canadian-American number

theorist at Princeton University.

'Icing on the cake'

In becoming the very first female medallist, Prof

Mirzakhani - who teaches at Stanford University

in California - ends what has been a long wait

for the mathematics community.

Prof Dame Frances Kirwan, a member of the medal

selection committee from the University of

Oxford, pointed out that despite being viewed

traditionally as "a male preserve", women have

contributed to mathematics for centuries.

She noted that around 40% of maths undergraduates

in the UK are women, but that proportion declines

rapidly at PhD level and beyond.

"I hope that this award will inspire lots more

girls and young women, in this country and around

the world, to believe in their own abilities and

aim to be the Fields Medallists of the future,"

Prof Kirwan said.

Prof Sir John Ball, another British mathematician

and a former president of the IMU, agreed that

Prof Mirzakhani's win was "fantastically

important". Speaking to BBC News from the

congress in Seoul, South Korea, he said that a

female winner was overdue and that Prof

Mirzakhani is one of many brilliant women

mathematicians.

He added that the committee had an unenviable job

choosing the winners. "These four are really

deserving of this recognition, but of course any

work at this level also builds on exceptional

work by other people."

Prof Mirzakhani's seminal research concerns

shapes called Riemann surfaces. These are

convoluted mathematical objects that can be

analysed using complex numbers - i.e. numbers

with real and imaginary parts.

In particular, she has studied "moduli spaces" of

these shapes, which map all of the possible

geometries of a Riemann surface into their own,

new space.

Prof Alison Etheridge, a lecturer in applied

mathematics at the University of Oxford, said she

was thrilled by the announcement.

"Women are doing so well now in mathematics that

this is just icing on the cake," Prof Etheridge

told the BBC. "It's the sort of thing which will

really catch the public's imagination - and as a

result I think it could have quite an impact on a

new generation."

Randomness in reality

Prof Etheridge is more familiar with the work of

the medallist from Warwick, Martin Hairer.

"I think Martin has done some of the most remarkable mathematics," she said.

"Traditionally, maths has been quite divided into

pure and applied. But what has happened over the

past decade or so, is that people have realised

that to do modern applied mathematics, you really

need a whole armoury of techniques from pure

mathematics - especially if you're going to take

account of random effects.

"What Martin's work does is it allows you to take

account of randomness in a way we just didn't

think was possible."

Prof Hairer's award is specifically for his

contribution to a particular type of equation,

known as a partial differential equation or PDE.

His theory allows mathematicians to predict how

physical processes will develop when they contain

elements of randomness.

A key example is modelling how the boundary

changes over time between two different

substances. Prof Terry Lyons, a colleague of Prof

Hairer's at Oxford, uses the example of the

interface between ash and paper, when a sheet is

slowly burning.

"But the sort of examples that it applies to in

the longer term are boundless," Prof Lyons added,

noting that climate science in particular was

"where it might end up".

"Martin has tackled a fundamental problem and

achieved a complete step-change in our

understanding of it."

'Ingenious and wonderful'

Caroline Series, a fellow maths professor at the

University of Warwick where Prof Hairer works,

said she was "utterly delighted" for her

colleague.

"It's fantastic news for Warwick," she told the BBC.

Prof Series has also known Prof Mirzakhani and her work for some time.

"I came across her a long time ago when she was a

PhD student, and I was sent a preliminary draft

of her thesis. And I just read it in amazement -

it was beautiful.

"She took something that's been known for a

while, and she took a rather elaborate and hard

to understand identity between things, and she

just applied it in the most ingenious and

wonderful way."

Prof Series believes the first female Fields

winner is a rare talent, who has produced unique

and striking work.

"I'm quite genuine about that," she said. "I

almost never think that about bits of

mathematics!"

-------------------------------------

SIDEBAR PHOTO AND VIDEO: Prof Maryam Mirzakhani

was given the Fields Medal for her work on

complex geometry

--------------------------------------

SIDEBAR: I think it could have quite an impact on a new generation"

Prof Alison Etheridge -- University of Oxford

--------------------------------------

SIDEBAR ILLUSTRATION: Prof Mirzakhani's winning

work relates to convoluted mathematical

constructions called Riemann surfaces - ALFRED

PASIEKA/SPL

-------------------------------------

SIDEBAR PHOTO: Medallist Prof Martin Hairer is

an Austrian mathematician who teaches at the

University of Warwick, UK

-----------------------------------

SIDEBAR PHOTO: Prof Mirzakhani went to school

and university in Tehran before doing a PhD at

Harvard

--------------------------------------

SIDEBAR ILLUSTRATION: Adding an account of

randomness to particular equations can help

explain the physical interaction between two

substances, like ash and paper in a smouldering

sheet THINKSTOCK

----------------------------------

SIDEBAR PHOTO: The Fields medal is engraved with a likeness of Archimedes

*********************************************