NPR logo Iranian-Swedish Researcher Among Winners Of Top European Math Prize


Iranian-Swedish Researcher Among Winners Of Top European Math Prize

Iranian-Swedish mathematician Sara Zahedi has won a prestigious European Mathematical Society Prize, the top honor for young European mathematicians awarded once every four years.

Zahedi is being recognized for her efforts to improve computer simulations of the behavior of fluids that don't mix together.

One of 10 recipients age 35 or under, Zahedi is the only woman to win one of this year's prizes, which were announced last week. And she's one of only nine female recipients since the EMS prize began in 1992. Zahedi will receive a check for 5,000 euros.

Previous laureates include Grigori Perelman, the subject of the controversial 2006 New Yorker profile "Manifold Destiny," and Cédric Villani, who gave a TED talk in February titled "What's so sexy about math?"

Born in Tehran, Zahedi grew up without a father; he was killed during the Iranian Revolution. When she was 10, her mother sent her to Sweden, on her own.

"I didn't have any friends and I didn't know any Swedish but math was a language I understood," Zahedi recently told Deutsche Welle. "In math class, I was able to communicate with my peers and I was able to make friends by solving problems with them." She went on to study at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, where she now works as a professor.

Zahedi is an expert in numerical analysis, a study of how to make computer simulations more efficient and accurate. She creates simulations of fluids that do not mix well, such as water, oil and gas. It's the interface between those fluids that interests Zahedi.

Her research could be helpful in reducing environmental damage from oil spills, she says.

"People [don't] want this oil to reach land, so they [add] a lot of surfactants into the sea to make oil soluble in water," Zahedi told Plus Magazine this week. The problem with this is that you don't really know what is going to happen. For example, how is it going to affect sea life? Computer simulations could give you insight into this kind of complex problem."