Maryam Mirzakhani, Fields Winner, Doodler

Maryam Mirzakhani.
Maryam-MirzakhaniPhoto: Via Quanta magazine, http://bit.ly/1vVYy47

Maryam-Mirzakhani, doodling.
Photo: Via Quanta magazine

Chalk up another victory for doodling, and, by extension, the arts.

Maryam Mirzakhani, the 37-year-old Stanford University mathematics professor who this year became the first woman to win the Fields Medal (officially called the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics), is a doodler.

“The process of drawing something helps you somehow to stay connected,” the creative thinker told Quanta magazine. When thinking about difficult math problems—and each of these could take months or years to solve—Mirzakhani doodles surfaces and other images that bear upon her research.

Video still from Maryam Mirzakhani."copyright 2014 International Mathematical Union.

Video still from “Maryam Mirzakhani.”
© 2014 International Mathematical Union, via Quanta magazine.

Mirzakhani’s husband said, “She has these huge pieces of paper on the floor and spends hours and hours drawing what look to me like the same picture over and over.” His and Mirzakhani’s three-year-old daughter refers to the doodling as “painting.”

Although it’s likely that the practice of drawing by hand does strengthen Mirzakhani’s visual thinking and technical skills, it’s unknown how little or much the practice of doodling has enhanced her unusually insightful understanding of geometry and dynamical systems (particularly the symmetry of curved surfaces).

“I am a slow thinker, and have to spend a lot of time before I can clean up my ideas and make progress,” she told an interviewer, adding, “The beauty of mathematics only shows itself to more patient followers.”

Video still from Maryam Mirzakhani."© 2014 International Mathematical Union.

Video still from “Maryam Mirzakhani.”
© 2014 International Mathematical Union, via Quanta magazine.

 

 


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