Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman and first Iranian to be awarded the Fields Medal, has passed away at the age of 40 from breast cancer. The Fields Medal is one of the most prestigious awards in mathematics, given every four years to a mathematician under the age of 40 in recognition of their “outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work and for the promise of future achievement.”

Mirzakhani became the first and currently only woman recipient in 2014, when she was recognized “for her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.” In layman’s terms, Mirzakhani studies some aspects of mathematics that are inspired by the “three-body problem” – the problem that, as *Slate*‘s Jordan Ellenberg describes it, “the dynamics of three objects in space (let alone the uncounted billions of hunks of mass making up the rest of the universe) are not described by any simple formula, despite the simplicity of the physical laws that govern them.”

For example, in her work with dynamics and geometry, one of the topics that Mirzakhani studied was billiard tables. “She considers not just one billiard table, but the universe of all possible billiard tables,” said Ellenberg. “And the kind of dynamics she studies doesn’t directly concern the motion of the billiards on the table, but instead a transformation of the billiard table itself, which is changing its shape in a rule-governed way; if you like, the table itself moves like a strange planet around the universe of all possible tables.”

I’d encourage you to read Stanford’s full write-up of her achievements and her tenacious, “slow math,” doodle-in-the-margins work style.

While in high school, Mirzakhani became the first female Iranian to win a gold medal in the 1994 International Mathematical Olympiad, before going on to become the first Iranian to achieve a perfect score *and *win two gold medals at the 1995 Olympiad. She earned her BSc in mathematics at Tehran’s Sharif University before going on to earn her PhD at Harvard University in 2004. She became a professor at Stanford University in 2008.

I don’t want to cheaply politicize Mirzakhani’s death, but it’s worth pointing out that she immigrated to the U.S. from Iran – a country which is currently on Trump’s travel ban list. Had she too been banned from attending Harvard University, or had immigration restrictions prevented her from taking a job at Stanford, the U.S. never would have benefited from her remarkable mind, creativity, and hard work.

“Maryam embodied what being a mathematician or scientist is all about,” said her fellow Stanford professor Ralph L. Cohen, “the attempt to solve a problem that hadn’t been solved before, or to understand something that hadn’t been understood before. This is driven by a deep intellectual curiosity, and there is great joy and satisfaction with every bit of success. Maryam had one of the great intellects of our time, and she was a wonderful person. She will be tremendously missed.”

Rest in peace, Maryam Mirzakhani.

(Via BBC News, Slate, and Stanford; image via Stanford News)

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See this BAMF right here? Do you see her and her amazing fashionable bowtie? This is Emmy Noether, and you better remember that name because she is the most kick-ass mathematician ever and YOU ARE WELCOME.

Do you think I am exaggerating? Oh let’s just ask genius mathematicians Pavel Alexandrov, Jean Dieudonne, Hermann Weyl, Norbert Wiener, and ALBERT EINSTEIN and, oh look, they all say she’s the MOST IMPORTANT WOMAN IN THE HISTORY OF DOING MATH, so, pretty sure I’m not wrong.

Emmy was born to mathematician Max Noether (which is pronounced “nerder,” making her way cooler than originally anticipated) in 1882, when women were not typically encouraged to do things that didn’t involve embroidery or the kitchen. After studying math at a German university, Emmy completed her dissertation in 1907 (she would later call her thesis “crap,” because she is One Of Us); but you think math dudes were cool with that? OBV NO they weren’t – are you paying attention to, like, all of history? – so they made Emmy work at the university while paying her LITERALLY ZERO DOLLARS for SEVEN WHOLE YEARS*.* I barely got through a month-long unpaid internship and Emmy lasted seven years while surrounded by German math trolls? Every award to her.

In 1915, Emmy was invited to join another German university as a lecturer but – surprise! – more math dudes were like “Nope,” and they made her lecture for FOUR MORE YEARS under her male supervisor’s name. ARE YOU GETTING JUST HOW GOOD EMMY WAS AT MATH? Most of us struggled to survive twelfth-grade calculus without having at least one meltdown, while this lady is like “I will math for free and feel humiliated the whole time but that’s how much I love math you guys don’t even worry about it.” Emmy’s supervisor was ahead of his time and didn’t understand why his math bros were so against Emmy, saying “We are a university, not a bath house”; Emmy, taking this as a challenge, then started swimming at a MEN-ONLY POOL because she was a stone-cold bad-ass.

Emmy was finally allowed to start lecturing under her own banner in 1919, and everyone across the whole entire world was suddenly like “Damn this girl is really frickin’ sweet at math, whoa.” Around this time, she did some important calculus – like SUPER important calculus. So important, in fact, that “Noether’s theorem” is now considered one of “the most important mathematical theorems ever” and is basically as vital as EINSTEIN’S THEORY OF RELATIVITY which you may have heard of, I don’t know. It explains why bicycles work, so you can thank Emmy the next time you get on your sweet, sweet ride. Also, objects that meet the qualifications of one of Emmy’s other theories are now called “Noetherian,” and by 1933, people were calling her students the “Noether boys,” because they basically osmosis’d her radness and became math geniuses by association.

Oh hey L O L did I forget to mention that Noether was Jewish in Germany and this is the 1930s? Yeah oops HOW COULD I FORGET THAT TINY LITTLE DETAIL? Silly me. When the Nazis (the damn NAZIS, guys; this lady, SERIOUSLY) decided Jews weren’t going to be allowed in universities anymore, Noether peaced the hell out to America, presumably because there were way fewer Nazis in Pennsylvania. She never married, hated housework, wore glasses, had a lisp, and is almost always seen smiling in photos. One time, two of her (rare) female students came up to her during a lecture break to be like “Hey, we notice you get so excited about math that your hair gets really frizzy and you spit food on your clothes,” but you know what? They couldn’t even talk to Emmy, because she was too busy having a discussion with some other students about MORE MATH. So maybe, the next time you’re feeling down, just think WWED? If she can laugh through NAZIS and HORRIBLE ASSHOLES you can handle whatever it is you are going through, I guarantee it.

Because being a woman is awesome but mostly terrible in every era, Noether had surgery on an ovarian cyst in 1935 and died four days later at age 53. Know who wrote her eulogy? And published it? In the New York Times? Albert Einstein. YEAH*. *Yeah. Now, she has a crater on the moon AND AN ASTEROID named after her. So thanks, Emmy, for being a math genius and inspiring ladies to get it. And happy birthday.

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Esther Okade might be ten years younger than normal university students, but she’s *easily* ten years cooler. Even Tony Stark didn’t graduate MIT until he was in his late teens.

After successfully enrolling at the UK’s Open University, Walsall’s Okade has become one of the world’s youngest college students. She enrolled three weeks ago and has already received a perfect score on her first test, which she says was “easy.” I have a feeling not everyone might agree with that assessment – except her six-year-old brother, Isaiah, who is already taking university qualification exams himself. What magic DNA?

In addition to math, Okade also loves *Frozen* and playing with dolls, but attending university so young was entirely her idea. Her mother said that “from the age of seven Esther has wanted to go to university, but I was afraid it was too soon.” She finally gave in to her daughter when Okade hit double-digits. Apparently, Okade wants to run her own bank one day, and I would happily invest my money there, ma’am.

Okade previously made the BBC back in 2010, when she was only six years old, for receiving a C grade in her maths GCSE, a test normally taken by 14 to 16-year-olds in England. Okade took the test at Ounsdale High School in Wombourne, Wolverhampton, which are apparently all actual, real place names. At the time, Okade’s father (“the happiest dad in the world”) said that they noticed her “knack for numbers” at age three, and that her mother has been teaching her algebra and quadratic equations.

When I was six years old I was really into *Charlotte’s Web*, so, you know. There’s that.

(via The Independent)

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Earlier this month, we brought you the news that **University of New Hampshire mathematician Yitang Zhang proved a weak version of the twin prime conjecture**, showing that there is an endless supply of prime pairs which are separated by no more than 70,000,000. That seems like it’s a long way from proving the proper twin prime conjecture — showing an infinite number of primes separated by just two digits — but it might not be. **In their latest video, the math whizzes at Numberphile offer a great layman’s explanation of what the twin prime conjecture is and what Zhang’s work means for it. **

It turns out, when you’re dealing with the huge numbers that mathematicians work with, 70,000,000 and 2 aren’t really as far apart as they might seem. Huge numbers like googolplex can really mess with sense of scale that way. The Numberphile crew even points out that some researchers familiar with Zhang’s work see it as a stepping stone that could used to prove an infinite number of primes with as few as 16 numbers between them without a lot of reworking.

(via Numberphile)

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Ok, I’m just going to say it —** the physicists at Aalto University may have a bit too much time on their hands**, seeing as they’ve taken Wikipedia watching to a new extreme. Working with researchers from around Europe, **they’ve created the first known mathematical model of editorial conflicts in Wikipedia, which tracks the birth, life and occasionally even the resolution of the Internet grudge matches that determine what is fact on the Internet’s number one repository of facts.**

The model takes into account several different factors, from the fairly simple — how a controversy grows over time as new editors join the fray and add their opinions to the mix — to the complex — working to control for different levels of sensitivity about a topic in editors and their level of tolerance for contrary opinions — and also offers researchers the tools to visualize the controversies and conversations that shape articles over their lifespans.

The model of Wikipedia interactions and their effect on articles takes its cues from research in local and global interactions. Local interactions here are the conversations between different groups of editors that change their own personal opinions, while global interactions change the actual content of an article. That’s pretty amazing, though the implication it carries — that humans and our fancy opinions and thoughts are really no more complex at the end of the day than your average subatomic particle — are a bit cringe-inducing.

The work also suggests that editing Wikipedia articles together could bring people with wildly different opinions on things closer together. Even if editors don’t work together directly or interact while making their edits, strong views from both sides tend to converge in the middle over time. According to researcher **Gerardo Iniguez:**

“The presence of the Wikipedia article itself brings the opinions of individuals together and helps the convergence process. Without an article, on which to work collectively, groups with different opinions could stay separate and ignore each other.”

Or, put a little more simply, none of us is entirely right about pretty much anything, and working with someone who has different points of view than your own can be good for everyone involved. That’s not rocket science. Though it is, apparently, physics, and as the team continues to refine their model, they hope to learn more about what the laws of physics have to tell us about how humans interact.

(via *Physical Review Letters*)

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