Maths 'genius' Maryam Mirzakhani dies, aged 40

(FILES) This file photo taken on August 13, 2014 shows a handout photo taken and released by the Seoul ICM 2014, showing Iranian- born Maryam Mirzakhani, a Harvard educated mathematician and professor at Stanford University in California, during a press conference after the awards ceremony for the Fields Medals at the International Congress of Mathematicians 2014 in Seoul on August 13, 2014. Mirzakhani, an Iranian-born math whiz and the first woman to win the Fields Medal - the Nobel Prize for mathematics - has died in a US hospital after a battle with cancer on July 15, 2017. She was 40. (AFP)
Updated 16 July 2017
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Maths 'genius' Maryam Mirzakhani dies, aged 40

WASHINGTON: Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian-born mathematician who was the first woman to win the coveted Fields Medal, died Saturday in a US hospital after a battle with cancer. She was 40.
Mirzakhani's friend Firouz Naderi, a former director of Solar Systems Exploration at NASA, announced her death on Instagram.
"A light was turned off today. It breaks my heart ..... gone far too soon," he wrote, later adding: "A genius? Yes. But also a daughter, a mother and a wife."
Mirzakhani, a professor at Stanford University in California, died after the cancer she had been battling for four years spread to her bone marrow, Iranian media said.
In 2014 Mirzakhani won the Fields Medal, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Mathematics, which is awarded by the International Congress of Mathematicians.
The award recognized her sophisticated and original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces such as spheres.
Born in 1977 and raised in Tehran, Mirzakhani initially dreamed of becoming a writer, but by the time she started high school and showed an affinity for solving math problems she shifted her sights.
"It is fun -- it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case," she said when she won the Fields Medal.
"I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path."
Mirzakhani said she enjoyed pure mathematics because of the elegance and longevity of the questions she studies.
"It is like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out," she added.
In 2008 she became a professor of mathematics at Stanford. She is survived by her husband, Stanford mathematician Jan Vondrak, and her young daughter Anahita.


In Iran, President Hassan Rouhani said that Mirzakhani's "doleful passing" has caused "great sorrow," state media reported.
Rouhani praised the "unprecedented brilliance of this creative scientist and modest human being, who made Iran's name resonate in the world's scientific forums, (and) was a turning point in showing the great will of Iranian women and young people on the path towards reaching the peaks of glory ... in various international arenas."
Separately on Instagram, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Mirzakhani's death is a cause for grief for all Iranians.
Mirzakhani's impact "will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science," said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.
He described her as "a humble person who accepted honors only with the hope that it might encourage others to follow her path."
The university said via Stanford News that Mirzakhani's preferred method of working "was to doodle on large sheets of white paper, scribbling formulas on the periphery of her drawings. Her young daughter described her mother at work as 'painting.'"
Mirzakhani became known on the international mathematics scene as a teenager, winning gold medals at both the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiads -- and finished with a perfect score in the latter competition.
She went on to win the 2009 Blumenthal Award for the Advancement of Research in Pure Mathematics, and the 2013 Satter Prize of the American Mathematical Society.
Mirzakhani studied mathematics at Sharif University in Iran and earned a PhD degree from Harvard in 2004. She then taught at Princeton University before moving to Stanford in 2008.
The Fields Medal, which she won in 2014, is given out every four years, often to multiple winners aged 40 or younger.
Mirzakhani also collaborated with Alex Eskin, a University of Chicago mathematician "to take on another of the most-vexing problems in the field: the trajectory of a billiards ball around a polygonal table," Stanford News said.
"The challenge began as a thought exercise among physicists a century ago and had yet to be solved."
The duo published a 200-page long paper on the subject in 2014 hailed as "the beginning of a new era" in mathematics, according to Stanford News.


Instagram unveils new video service in challenge to YouTube

Kevin Systrom, CEO and co-founder of Instagram said he hopes IGTV will emerge as a hub of creativity for relative unknowns. (AP)
Updated 20 June 2018
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Instagram unveils new video service in challenge to YouTube

  • Video will be available through Instagram or a new app called IGTV
  • Before, Facebook and Instagram have copied Snapchat — another magnet for teens and young adults

SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook’s Instagram service is loosening its restraints on video in an attempt to lure younger viewers away from YouTube when they’re looking for something to watch on their smartphones.
The expansion announced Wednesday, dubbed IGTV, will increase Instagram’s video time limit from one minute to 10 minutes for most users. Accounts with large audiences will be able to go as long as an hour.
Video will be available through Instagram or a new app called IGTV. The video will eventually give Facebook more opportunities to sell advertising.
It’s the latest instance in which Instagram has ripped a page from a rival’s playbook in an effort to preserve its status as a cool place for young people to share and view content. In this case, Instagram is mimicking Google’s YouTube. Before, Facebook and Instagram have copied Snapchat — another magnet for teens and young adults.
Instagram, now nearly 8 years old, is moving further from its roots as a photo-sharing service as it dives headlong into longer-form video.
The initiative comes as parent company Facebook struggles to attract teens, while also dealing with a scandal that exposed its leaky controls for protecting users’ personal information.
Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom told The Associated Press that he hopes IGTV will emerge as a hub of creativity for relative unknowns who turn into Internet sensations with fervent followings among teens and young adults.
That is what’s already happening on YouTube, which has become the world’s most popular video outlet since Google bought it for $1.76 billion nearly 12 years ago. YouTube now boasts 1.8 billion users.
Instagram, which Facebook bought for $1 billion six years ago, now has 1 billion users, up from 800 million nine months ago.
More importantly, 72 percent of US kids ranging from 13 to 17 years old use Instagram, second to YouTube at 85 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Only 51 percent of people in that group now use Facebook, down from 71 percent from a similar Pew survey in 2014-15.
That trend appears to be one of the reasons that Facebook is “hedging its bets” by opening Instagram to the longer-form videos typically found on YouTube, said analyst Paul Verna of the research firm eMarketer.
Besides giving Instagram another potential drawing card, longer clips are more conducive for video ads lasting from 30 seconds to one minute. Instagram doesn’t currently allow video ads, but Systrom said it eventually will. When the ads come, Instagram intends to share revenue with the videos’ creators — just as YouTube already does.
“We want to make sure they make a living because that is the only way it works in the long run,” Systrom said.
The ads also will help Facebook sustain its revenue growth. Total spending on online video ads in the US is expected to rise from nearly $18 billion this year to $27 billion in 2021, according to eMarketer.
Lele Pons, a YouTube sensation who also has amassed 25 million followers on Instagram, plans to launch a new cooking show on IGTV in hopes of increasing her audience and eventually generating more revenue. “It’s like Coca-Cola and Pepsi,” she said. “You will never know what you like better unless you try both.”
IGTV’s programming format will consist exclusively of vertical video designed to fill the entire screen of smartphones — the devices that are emerging as the main way younger people watch video. By contrast, most YouTube videos fill only a portion of the screen unless the phone is tilted horizontally.
Snapchat began featuring vertical video before Instagram, another example of its penchant for copying rivals.
But Systrom sees it differently. “This is acknowledging vertical video is the future and we want the future to come more quickly, so we built IGTV.”