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For the first time in history, the Fields Medal — the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for mathematics — has been awarded to a woman. A share of the award goes to Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian mathematician and professor of mathematics at Stanford University.

Mirzakhani and three other mathematicians were honored for their contributions to the field at the International Congress of Mathematicians on Wednesday in Seoul, South Korea. The Fields Medal is the most prestigious international award for mathematics. The award is given every four years to mathematicians under age 40. The first Fields Medal was awarded in 1936, and none of the recipients has been female until now.

"This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians," Mirzakhani said in a statement. "I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years." [The 11 Most Beautiful Mathematical Equations]

Mirzakhani is being awarded the Fields Medal for her outstanding contributions to the understanding the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces, according to the International Mathematical Union. Riemann surfaces are geometric objects whose points each represent a different surface. Real-world analogs examples include amoebae and doughnuts.

The other recipients of the 2014 Fields Medal are Artur Avila of Denis Diderot University in Paris, Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick, and Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University. To see how Mirzakhani and other awardees explain their work, check out their profiles in Quanta Magazine.

— Bahar Gholipour, LiveScience

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full report. Email Bahar Gholipour or follow her on Twitter. Follow LiveScience on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.