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Stanford math professor becomes first woman to receive prestigious Fields Medal

For the first time, a woman has won the distinguished Fields Medal, often described as the Nobel prize for mathematics.

Stanford University's Maryam Mirzakhani, a professor of mathematics, was one of four winners this year, The Guardian reports. Mirzakhani, 37, was born and raised in Iran, and earned her PhD from Harvard in 2004. Growing up, she loved literature and dreamed of being a writer, but became interested in math and science after her brother would talk about what he was learning in school. In a press release, the International Mathematics Union said Mirzakhani won for "her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces."

"It's an extraordinary moment," says Christiane Rousseau, vice president of the International Mathematics Union. "Marie Curie had Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry at the beginning of the 20th century, but in mathematics this is the first time we have a woman winning the most prestigious prize. This is a celebration for women."

The winners were announced during a ceremony in Seoul on Wednesday morning. The International Mathematical Union awards the medals every four years to "exceptional talents" 40 and under. Between two to four prizes are given out each time, along with an award of $15,000 Canadian dollars.

This year's other winners are researchers Martin Hairer, 38, of Britain's Warwick University; Manjul Bhargava, 40, of Princeton University; and Artur Avila, 35, of Institute of Mathematics of Jussieu in Paris. Including this year's honorees, the prize has been given to 55 people since it was first awarded in 1936.