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Topic: [ncsm-members] Editorial by Zahra Gooya: Re: Maryam Mirzakhani
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,494
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] Editorial by Zahra Gooya: Re: Maryam Mirzakhani
Posted: Oct 27, 2017 7:42 PM
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From [ICMI-News] ICMI NEWS November 2017
Editorial - From the desk of Zahra Gooya, Member at-large of the
Executive Committee of The International Commission on Mathematical
Instruction (ICMI).

"Don't Make a Myth from Maryam! She should be remembered as a Role Model"

Only three years have passed since, in 2014, the mathematics world
celebrated the first woman ever to win the Fields Medal- commonly
known as Mathematics Nobel Prize. And now, the mathematics world is
in grief of losing her. Many young researchers around the globe have
been inspired by and were amazed by her humble and yet, fearless

Kasra Rafi from the University of Toronto wrote that in 2016, he and
Maryam walked from her house at Palo Alto to Stanford's mathematics
department to attend a lecture delivered by Mikhail Gromov; in a time
that Maryam's cancer spread to her bones and liver and she was in
harsh pain, knowing that the time of her flight to eternity is very
near. It was amazing that, even in that situation, she restlessly
walked to listen to a talk! Kasra said they had to stop "every few
minutes along the walk so that she could lie down on a bench to rest"
(Nature, Vol. 549, Sep. 7, 2017, p.32)

In my view, the everlasting Mirzakhani legacy was to depict the human
face of mathematics and a mathematician, to say the least. As we may
recall, one of the main goals of the World Mathematics Year -2000,
was to change the public image of mathematics, which she achieved in
the most prominent way. Maryam Mirzakhani never let her illness stop
her from making astonishing discoveries and inventions. This
eagerness to break scientific barriers continued till the last few
months of her life. A unique aspect of Maryam was being an ordinary
genius! Mathematics and art were both a natural beauty for her and
above all, she was a caregiving mother, a wonderful wife, an
excellent daughter and sister for her parents and siblings, a
generous friend, a courageous mentor and teacher and of course, an
inspired young researcher of mathematics. She was given a great gift
of being normal; she got married and raised her daughter, spent time
with her and in her very short life never postponed things for the
unknown future. She was unique in combining research work and
personal life together.

Another legacy of Maryam's, which she left behind for all young
scientists, is to encourage them to strive towards reaching their
goals. To reach the peak, she sometimes ran, from time to time sat
down and thought, and occasionally took only a few steps. It always
seemed that she even was not in hurry when taking off with utmost

She was an intuitive problem solver and "to solve problems,
Mirzakhani would draw doodles on sheets of paper and write
mathematical formulas around the drawings" and her daughter described
her mother's work as "painting."

Numerous memorial and commemorate services have been held to honor
Maryam Mirzakhani's work worldwide. In all services being held in
Iran and in most of them, her parents were present, her father
pleaded to everyone not to allow Maryam to become a Myth, but to be a
role model instead. He argued that a "myth" is not accessible,
whereas a "role model" is. Moreover, successful role models are
accessible, and could inspire young people, women and men, to aspire
to reach their highest potential.

Many organizations in Iran advocated to establish a prize in her name
for the most talented Iranian young woman in mathematics. However, I
strongly argued with my colleagues and others that Maryam Mirzakhani
belongs to the world and the international mathematics community.
Thus, it is not fair to make her a national hero, nor to restrict the
prize based on gender. She has given much to the world at large and
to women mathematicians in particular. I believe that her legacy
should be the source of inspiration for all young women
mathematicians around the globe.
Jerry P. Becker
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
College of Education and Human Services
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
625 Wham Drive / MC 4610
Carbondale, Illinois 62901

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