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Maryam Mirzakhani (wikipedia.org)
299 points by mmoez 40 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

Mirzakhani will always have a special place in my heart.

I was an undergraduate mathematics student when I discovered her work. It was a paper on closed geodesics and there was something special about her writing. Her approaches were simple an elegant -the kind that made you, as a reader, feel accomplished for understanding such a complex subject. It wasn't long until she was placed among other grand mathematicians that I looked up to.

A year later she died. I wasn't even aware of her health. It sucked to see an idol go so young. But it's incredible what she accomplished within her lifetime. She'll always be one of the greatest.

For the curious, do you have a link to the paper?

I don't remember if this is the exact paper but as united893 already posted, the paper was probably:


Long story short: Imagine you have an object, place an ant on the surface of the object, and then instruct the ant to walk in a straight line forever. Will the ant ever end up in the same place it started (with the same initial direction)? If so, then it has formed a closed geodesic. For some objects, the answer is obvious. For a perfect sphere, the answer is always yes. In fact, any sphere-like object (imagine warping/contorting a sphere without tearing or poking holes in it) will always have at least 3 such closed geodesics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theorem_of_the_three_geodesics.

Miriam managed to construct an amazing formula that, when given the number of holes in an object, can give you the probability of forming a closed geodesic when starting from a random point in a random direction.

This: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sx-kAlEpiZk is a great video that goes over what I explained and a couple other great achievements of hers. Worth a watch.

> Mirzakhani described herself as a "slow" mathematician, saying that "you have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math." To solve problems, Mirzakhani would draw doodles on sheets of paper and write mathematical formulas around the drawings. Her daughter described her mother's work as "painting".

> She declared: "I don't have any particular recipe [for developing new proofs] ... It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck, you might find a way out."

This reminded me of our Analysis prof. "I really hate Iternational Mathematical Olympiad. The problems there give you the false impression that math-theorems have elegant solutions. No. You are usually banging your head against the problem, and when nobody is looking you use dynamite!" - especially the "lost in a jungle" part of the quote :)

Note that Mirzakhani was an IMO gold medalist, so she could solve problems plenty fast when she needed to.

Noted :) I hope prof was more tongue-in-cheek 'hating the game, not the players', but I can't be certain after 10 years :P

As I read that I thought, "It would be awesome to see those doodles." A quick image search did not disappoint:


Not sure if others are having the same problem, but as soon as I try to scroll down on that page, it gets replaced by a subscribe request or something like that.

Here are some direct links to the 3 images in that article...




Good find. It seems it is not linked in the Wikipedia article.

My mental picture of her is that of a genius on the floor drawing on huge pieces of paper.

It comes from this short article about her: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/28/magazine/the-...

Great article, thanks. It fills me with melancholy, knowing that such a brilliant mind left this world too soon.

Deep respect for folks such as Maryam. I admit I don't know much of math or for that matter much of anything. After she won the award I remember visiting the Fields medal website and reading a short synopsis of her work. I couldn't understand even one sentence fully. These guys work is so amazing and so far from one's own field. Such brilliant people we have... I felt very sad and wept when she passed away. If the Lord showed more mercy, she could have continued to bring forth even more amazing work and humanity would have flourished because of it.

Imagine how many more people like Maryam are impacted by the merciless sanctions we've put upon Iran. Access to medicine, food and economic opportunity have precipitously declined as a direct result[1] of them.

Persian people brought algebraic concepts to Europe in the 9th century. We must not lose sight of what could be if the western world understood the value of that connection.

1. https://www.thenation.com/article/world/iran-sanctions-human...

I was reading the rules for entry for a Kaggle competition the other day and I saw that Iranians are banned from entering. It’s pretty depressing/angering/pathetic. At some point a company just has to say fuck you to their government if their laws are inappropriate.

Gone at only 40 years of age. What an incredible shame. How much more would she have been able to unravel had she lived longer. RIP.

This is exactly one of the sub-optimalities and inefficiencies of the world. The good go, the bad stay. It's so sad.

Another excellent article about her from 2014 is here:


It also tries to explain her work in layman terms, fwiw.

I remember reading about it here: https://rjlipton.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/maryam-mirzakhani-...

Always a tragic death to be reminded of. :(

RIP(روحش شاد باشه) Maryam and thanks for your contributions.

When she won the Fields medal, I did some digging to try to find a layman's explanation of her math. It wasn't easy to find such and other people were expressing bewilderment as to what exactly she did:


Alex Wright recently wrote a nice mathematical exposition on some of her work relating to Riemann surfaces, targeted at "a broad audience of non-experts."


It's really annoying that there's nothing other than her name in the headline. There are a lot of articles on HN I don't click on because there's no information and I don't have time to open every article just to figure out if I want to read it. Is it too much to ask that the post include at least some relevant information?

Resist the urge to be annoyed by this, and use it as an opportunity to practice a useful skill: that of searching for value from something where the value isn’t highlighted upfront.

Most of today’s media tends to “tell you what to think” in advance of reading the story, and I would argue that is a big piece of the (poorly defined) problems with society today.

I’m glad you wrote your comment, because it helped me realize why it’s worthwhile to me to have this sort of article posted on HN — I think it’s a valuable skill, to figure out what to think (instead of being told it upfront).

Absolutely. Within the scientific community, there are excellent people, who if you tell them what you are doing and why it is important, will respond by telling you all the other ways your work is important.

These people are practicing the skill you are note: identifying value in things that others have not identified.

Link poster here.

I understand that the name only as a title offers no context to those who don't know Maryam Mirzakhani. But HN rules seem to favor not editing the original titles of articles and make them click-baity.

That's right. It's good for readers here to have to work a little. It slows down the usual reflexes and gives a little time for slower, more reflective mechanisms to kick in. Those are the ones that produce non-habitual responses, which are everything we care about.



When I see a post on HN that produces a substantial response despite a lack of detail in the title, I take it as a sign of something (or someone) I ought to read more about.

Sometimes you have to allow yourself to be surprised. :)

Plus, don't know how you would sum her up - "A mathematical genius"? A bit dry

Welcome to HN! I perhaps came to know of her via HN, when she won the Fields medal. Then about her tragic untimely death. Then couple of memory articles, at least once since 2017.

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