Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian-born mathematician who was the first woman to win the coveted Fields Medal, died Saturday in a US hospital after a battle with cancer. She was 40.
Mirzakhani's friend Firouz Naderi, a former director of Solar Systems Exploration at NASA, announced her death on Instagram.
"A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart ..... gone far too soon," he wrote, later adding: "A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife."
Mirzakhani, a professor at Stanford University in California, died after the cancer she had been battling for four years spread to her bone marrow, Iranian media said.
In 2014 Mirzakhani won the Fields Medal, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Mathematics, which is awarded by the International Congress of Mathematicians.
The award recognized her sophisticated and original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces such as spheres.
Born in 1977 and raised in Tehran, Mirzakhani initially dreamed of becoming a writer, but by the time she started high school and showed an affinity for solving math problems she shifted her sights.
"It is fun -– it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case," she said when she won the Fields Medal.
"I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path."
Mirzakhani said she enjoyed pure mathematics because of the elegance and longevity of the questions she studies.