First female Fields Medal winner Maryam Mirzakhani hopes she will encourage young female mathematicians and scientists

She was praised for her work in the symmetry of curved surfaces

The first woman to be awarded a prestigious mathematics medal equivalent to the Nobel Prize has said she hopes her achievement will inspire young female scientists and mathematicians.

Maryam Mirzakhani, an Iranian professor at Stanford University in California, US, is the first female among the 56 winners since the Fields Medal was established in 1936.

The 37-year-old was praised for her work in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, according to Stanford University.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye presented Mirzakhani and three other Fields Medal winners with their awards at the International Congress of Mathematicians held in Seoul on Wednesday.

Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick became the first UK winner of the Medal since 1998.

Artur Avila of the National Center for Scientific Research in France and Brazil's National Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics, who earned his PhD in dynamical systems when he was just 21, was also awarded, as well as Canadian-American number theorist Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University in the US.

(from left) Martin Hairer of the University of Warwick in Britain, Manjul Bhargava of Princeton University in New Jersey, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, Maryam Mirzakhani and, Artur Avila of France

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“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 the Iranian capital of Tehran, where she lived until she began her doctorate work at Harvard University. While she dreamed of being a writer as a young girl, she chose to follow through her passion 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.

The prize was established by Canadian mathematician John Fields, and is awarded to between two and four researchers aged under 40 every four years. The highly sought-after medals come with a 15,000 Canadian dollar (£8,000) cash prize.

Prof Dame Frances Kirwan, a member of the medal selection committee from the University of Oxford, told BBC News that maths has traditionally been seen as a “male preserve”, despite the fact women have contributed to the discipline for centuries.

“I hope that this award will inspire lots more girls and young women, in this country and around the world, to believe in their own abilities and aim to be the Fields Medallists of the future,” Prof Kirwan she told the broadcaster.