The International Mathematical Union has awarded the Fields Medal to four mathematicians—including, for the first time, a woman: Iranian Maryam Mirzakhani, a 37-year-old professor at Stanford.

According to NPR, the Fields Medal—aka the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics—is "often called math's equivalent of the Nobel Prize." Mirzakhani is being honored for her "sophisticated and highly original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, such as spheres, the surfaces of doughnuts and of hyperbolic objects." Her work has implications for physics and quantum field theory, according to a statement released by Stanford.

For her part, Mirzakhani—who was raised in Tehran, Iran, and won gold medals in the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiads as a teenager—says receiving the award is a great honor. "I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians. I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years."

[via NPR/]