from the much-too-soon dept.
Nearly three years after she became the first woman to win math's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, Maryam Mirzakhani has died of breast cancer at age 40. Her death was confirmed Saturday by Stanford University, where Mirzakhani had been a professor since 2008.
Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, and a daughter, Anahita — who once referred to her mother's work as "painting," because of the doodles and drawings that marked her process of working on proofs and problems, according to an obituary released by Stanford.
Mirzakhani has made several contributions to the theory of moduli spaces of Riemann surfaces. In her early work, Mirzakhani discovered a formula expressing the volume of a moduli space with a given genus as a polynomial in the number of boundary components. This led her to obtain a new proof for the formula discovered by Edward Witten and Maxim Kontsevich on the intersection numbers of tautological classes on moduli space, as well as an asymptotic formula for the growth of the number of simple closed geodesics on a compact hyperbolic surface, generalizing the theorem of the three geodesics for spherical surfaces. Her subsequent work has focused on Teichmüller dynamics of moduli space. In particular, she was able to prove the long-standing conjecture that William Thurston's earthquake flow on Teichmüller space is ergodic.
Most recently as of 2014, with Alex Eskin and with input from Amir Mohammadi, Mirzakhani proved that complex geodesics and their closures in moduli space are surprisingly regular, rather than irregular or fractal. The closures of complex geodesics are algebraic objects defined in terms of polynomials and therefore they have certain rigidity properties, which is analogous to a celebrated result that Marina Ratner arrived at during the 1990s. The International Mathematical Union said in its press release that, "It is astounding to find that the rigidity in homogeneous spaces has an echo in the inhomogeneous world of moduli space."
Mirzakhani was awarded the Fields Medal in 2014 for "her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces".