Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian professor of mathematics at Stanford, is the first woman to win the Fields Medal, an award widely regarded as “Nobel Prize of mathematics." 

In an interview with Quanta Magazine, Mirzakhani, 37, said she thinks about math in pictures (see one doodle above), and compared mathematics research to writing a novel. "There are different characters, and you are getting to know them better,” she said. “Things evolve, and then you look back at a character, and it’s completely different from your first impression.”

Photos: Stanford University, Quanta Magazine
Maryam Mirzakhani Is First Woman Fields Medalist | Simons Foundation

Mirzakhani likes to describe herself as slow. Unlike some mathematicians who solve problems with quicksilver brilliance, she gravitates toward deep problems that she can chew on for years. “Months or years later, you see very different aspects” of a problem, she said. There are problems she has been thinking about for more than a decade. “And still there’s not much I can do about them,” she said.