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Mirzakhani, who is Iranian, studies the geometry of moduli space, a complex geometric and algebraic entity that might be described as a universe in which every point is itself a universe. Mirzakhani described the number of ways a beam of light can travel a closed loop in a two-dimensional universe. To answer the question, it turns out, you cannot just stay in your "home" universe – you have to understand how to navigate the entire multiverse. Mirzakhani has shown mathematicians new ways to navigate these spaces.
Mirzakhani first attracted international attention as a high-school student in 1995, when she was the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score in the International Mathematics Olympiad.