Princeton's Mirzakhani honored by American Mathematical Society

March 6, 2009 11:23 a.m.

Maryam Mirzakhani, a professor of mathematics at Princeton, has been awarded the 2009 Leonard M. and Eleanor B. Blumenthal Award for the Advancement of Research in Pure Mathematics by the American Mathematical Society. 

Presented every four years, the award recognizes an individual deemed to have made the most substantial contribution in research in the field of pure mathematics and one with the potential for future production of distinguished research in the field. To fulfill the criteria, the prize committee has decided to grant the award for the most substantial Ph.D. thesis produced in the four-year interval between awards.   Mirzakhani's work was cited as being exceptionally creative and highly original. Her efforts combined tools as diverse as hyperbolic geometry, classical methods of automorphic forms and symplectic reduction to obtain results on three different mathematical questions. She is best known for her advances in hyperbolic geometry, including her solution of a problem that involved calculating the volumes of moduli spaces of curves. These are geometric objects whose points each represent a different hyperbolic surface. Examples in the real world include doughnuts and amoebae but the implications are largely theoretical. She solved the problem by drawing a series of loops on the surface of the shapes and calculating their lengths.   Mirzakhani obtained her undergraduate degree in mathematics from the Sharif University of Technology in Iran. After earning her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2004, she joined the Princeton faculty while working at the same time as a fellow of the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass.   The society also recognized two other mathematicians with Princeton ties.   Aaron Pixton, a 2008 graduate, was named the winner of the 2009 Morgan Prize for Outstanding Research by an Undergraduate Student for five papers in addition to his Princeton thesis. One paper has already appeared in the Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society, two others have been accepted by Forum Mathematicum and the International Journal of Number Theory and two others have been submitted.   Pixton currently is studying mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He will return to Princeton next fall to enter the Ph.D. program, where he plans to study some combination of number theory and algebraic geometry.   Another 2008 Princeton graduate, Andrei Negut, earned an honorable mention for the Morgan Prize for his senior thesis.