A Trailblazer Gone Too Soon

On social media, I often make a point of sharing stories of women and people of color accomplishing “firsts,” and of course, I look forward to a day when these are no longer a big deal. In 2014 I shared the story of Maryam Mirzakhani, a 37-year-old woman originally from Iran, had just won the Fields Medal in Mathematics, which has been called the Nobel Prize of the field. Mirzakhani was the first woman to receive this prestigious honor since it was created in 1936. She became a role model to young girls interested in STEM, and no doubt to girls and women in the Middle East (and other non-white women) who saw in her an image of themselves in a field that had traditionally been male and white.

It was with great sadness that we learned this past weekend of Mirzakhani’s passing from breast cancer. While much has been done to raise awareness about breast cancer to raise funds for research, it continues to infect women (and even some men) at an alarming rate. The National Breast Cancer Center reports that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime, and that a woman dies from the disease every 13 minutes – some of them, like Mirzakhani, at a devastatingly young age.

In expressing his sadness at her passing, NASA scientist Firouz Naderi reminded us that Mirzakhani was more than just an award-winning mathematician and role model. He noted that she was "A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife." Read Bill Chappell of NPR’s piece remembering this remarkable woman and the contributions she made.