Professor Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian mathematician, has become the first ever woman to win the prestigious Fields Medal (on par with the Nobel Prize).
Mirzakhani, who teaches at Stanford University, was recognized for her work on complex geometry.
The Fields Medal, established by Canadian mathematician John Fields, comes with cash prize of more than $13,700. Four of these medals were presented in Seoul at the International Congress of Mathematicians, an event held every four years.
"I hope that this award will inspire lots more girls and young women, in this country and around the world, to believe in their own abilities and aim to be the Fields Medalists of the future," says Professor Dame Frances Kirwan, a member of the medal selection committee from the University of Oxford.
It is certainly hoped so, but an achievement of this kind is a rarity in the field of science and math, which are largely male dominated.
Even though women have overtaken men in college attendance, just about 30 percent of them graduate with economics degrees (another field that’s male dominated) and 41 percent from science and engineering programs.
Further, engineering companies are considered the least female-friendly work environments. Almost 40 percent of women who earn degrees in the field leave their jobs prematurely or never apply for employment in the area in the first place. Their reason: poor workplace environments or mistreatment by managers and co-workers.
Mirzakhani, who has risen to the top with this rare and much coveted honor, is surely a trailblazer, but she is not alone. Here are five women who have excelled in the field of science:
Nicole King is an American biologist and faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley in molecular and cell biology and integrative biology. She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005.
Former United States Surgeon General Antonia Novello was not only the woman to hold that but position but also the first ever Hispanic. As a physician and medical professor she focused on pediatrics and child health. During her time as the 14th United States Surgeon General she focused on AIDS prevention, underage smoking and women’s health. She later worked at UNICEF.
Shirley M. Tilghman
A Canadian molecular biologist with several prestigious teaching awards, Shirley Tilghman worked on gene cloning, embryonic development and genetic regulation. In 2001, she became the first woman president of Princeton University.
Ingrid Daubechies is a Belgian physicist and mathematician. She is a professor at Duke University, a physicist, a mathematician and serves as the first female head of the International Mathematical Union.
In 2000 Daubechies became the first woman to receive the National Academy of Sciences Award in Mathematics, and in 2006 she shared the Pioneer Prize from the International Council for Industrial and Applied Mathematics with Heinz Engl, followed by 2012 Nemmers Prize in Mathematics.
Sheila Tobias deserves a special credit in this list.
Educated in history and literature at Harvard/Radcliffe, Tobias has a master's in history and an M.Phil at Columbia University and eight honorary doctorates.
Known as both an academic as well as feminist, Tobias has widely addressed women's experience of science education. Her literary titles include Overcoming Math Anxiety; They're Not Dumb, They're Different; Breaking the Science Barrier; Rethinking Science as a Career and Banishing Math Anxiety.