Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani on Wednesday became the first woman to be awarded the Fields Medal, mathematics' equivalent to the Nobel Prize.

The professor at Stanford University in California was among four Fields Medal recipients at the International Congress of Mathematicians held in Seoul, and the first female among the 56 winners since the prize was established in 1936.

"This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians," Mirzakhani was quoted as saying on Stanford's website.

"I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years," she said.

Mirzakhani, 37, was born in Tehran and lived there until she began her doctorate work at Harvard University. She said she had dreamed of becoming a writer when she was young, but she pursued her enthusiasm for solving mathematical problems.

"It is fun - it's like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case. I felt that this was something I could do, and I wanted to pursue this path," she said.

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