Abstract mathematics sometimes has surprisingly practical applications, to not only physics but other arenas as well. Take, for example, the work of extraordinarily innovative mathematician and former Member Maryam Mirzakhani, whose recent death at the age of 40 has been mourned around the world. One of the theorems she co-developed sheds light on several related longstanding physics quandaries having to do with ricocheting and diffusion—of light, billiards, the wind, and other entities. Undoubtedly, given its generality, it will find many uses in science, sports, and beyond, for years to come.
. . . It takes a brilliant mind to take in the entire picture and look at such situations in their most general forms. That was the genius of Maryam Mirzakhani, who was unafraid to tackle major questions in mathematics—rather than cranking out solutions to simpler, more specific problems, a temptation for any researcher trying to build a resume.