Paying homage to Maryam Mizarkhani

On July 14th, the world lost Maryam Mizarkhani, mathematician, intellectual, and pioneer, to a long battle with breast cancer. During the course of her life, she accomplished so many feats, and at such a young age - she was only 40. However, even in death, Maryam is still changing science, and the opportunities women will have to not only join, but also be recognized in the field.

Maryam Mizarkhani began her incredible journey into mathematical stardom as a teenager in her native Iran, when she won the International Mathematical Olympiad, twice! She left her homeland for the US to attend grad school, and was based there until her death. Her work gained global recognition, and she herself won the Fields Medal, the first, and so far only, woman and Iranian to win the award since its inception in 1936. She was a source of national pride for her country, but what did this translate into for women scientists in Iran?

While the stereotype is that Iran has suppressed women’s advancements in all careers, statistics show that there are up to 70% of science and engineering students in the country are women. They are also part of a growing community of business owners and entrepreneurs in traditionally male-dominated sectors such as oil and gas, mining, and more recently, tech. However, in spite of this high number of women in STEM in the country, no official award had been created to recognize their achievement- till now.

Following Mizarkhani’s death, and the outpouring of tributes that followed, the Iranian government announced that it would hold its first Women in Science Award, a national event to honor women in the fields of medical sciences, technical and engineering sciences, agriculture, and humanities. In addition, the Award honored the women who played an active role in the establishment of knowledge-based organizations, scientific associations, theorization chairs, university disciplines and scientific journals were honored.

Iranian women in the sciences seem to have a lot of support and be greatly involved in various national initiatives. However, Maryam Mizarkhani’s fame and popularity across the global scientific community accelerated the plans made to recognize these women for their contribution. Had she not worked so hard and become an inspiration, not just for female scientists, but for Iranian scientists in particular, then perhaps an argument could have been made that there was no need to invest visibly in the promotion of women in STEM. It is especially more poignant when one thinks of how young she was when she achieved all these remarkable feats, something that was taken into account by the award organizers. The Women in Science Award for young women scientists was named after her.

In the words of Stanford’s president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, “Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science.”

Do you have something to share about how Maryam Mizarkhani inspired you? Let us know @4womeninscience

Photo : © Via Stanford University, all rights reserved

For Women in Science

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