The Modelers


Maryam Mirzakhani was the first woman to win the Fields Medal, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for math.

She liked to do her work on huge pieces of paper on the floor. You can see her in action in this video:


As her obituary in The Economist recounts, surfaces and geometric structures weren’t her only challenges:

She belied stereotypes. To Americans, she had to explain that in her native Iran (unlike Saudi Arabia) women’s education and careers were not just tolerated but encouraged: her girls’ high school was run by a national organisation responsible for hothousing young talent. She was not only the first woman to win the Fields medal, but the first Iranian, making her a celebrity there. Some media flinched piously from portraying her without a headscarf, a taboo which frayed after her death. Her marriage to a non-Muslim was not recognised, hampering family visits. Many also bemoaned her emigration, part of a debilitating brain drain. She moved to America for postgraduate study in 1999, a time when today’s anti-Muslim immigration policies were unimaginable.

According to her obituary in The Atlantic:

Both in Iran and and internationally, Mirzakhani became a heroic figure for women in the sciences. Colleagues described her as very modest, and hesitant to take credit. But when she won the Fields Medal in 2014 she acknowledged her impact by saying, “I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians.”




Hidden Figures tells the story of the black female mathematicians who helped the first American astronaut orbit Earth.

The film’s cast and crew relied on Rudy Horne for their math. As his Chicago Sun-Times obituary explains:

The professor did more than check the math. He provided a vintage concept – Euler’s method – that helped solve a problem in a pivotal moment in the movie.


Described by friends and colleagues as a “braniac,” “consummate egghead,” and “rock-star teacher,” Mr. Horne was, also, an example:

“Rudy Horne was a direct role model for African-American male students because they could see themselves as hardcore applied mathematicians and have fun while doing it.”