Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani has become 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 honour. 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 was born in Tehran and lived there until she began her doctorate work at Harvard University. She said she 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.

Mirzakhani was recognised for her work in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces.

According to Stanford, the work could have an impact on the theoretical physics of how the universe came to exist.

The prizes are awarded every four years. Wednesday's honours were presented by South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

"On behalf of the entire Stanford community, I congratulate Maryam on this incredible recognition, the highest honour in her discipline, the first ever granted to a woman," said Stanford President John Hennessy on the university's website.

The other three Fields Medal winners were Artur Avila of the National Centre for Scientific Research in France and Brazil's National Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics; Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University and Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies