Britain's Peter Higgs and Belgium's Francois Englert won the 2013 Nobel Prize for physics Tuesday for their research on the existence of the Higgs boson — the so-called God particle, key to explaining why subatomic matter has mass.
The two scientists had been favorites to share the $1.25 million prize after their theoretical work was corroborated in July of last year by experiments conducted at a massive particle collider at CERN, the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research.
Englert and Higgs theorized about the existence of the particle in the 1960s to provide an answer to a riddle: Why does matter have mass? The tiny particle, they believed, acts like molasses on snow — causing other basic building blocks of nature to stick together, slow down and form atoms.
"The awarded theory is a central part of the Standard Model of particle physics that describes how the world is constructed," the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement. "According to the Standard Model, everything, from flowers and people to stars and planets, consists of just a few building blocks: matter particles."
The award for physics was the second in this year's crop of Nobel Prizes, which were first handed out in 1901 to honor achievements in chemistry, literature, peace, physics and physiology or medicine, in accordance with the will of dynamite inventor and business tycoon Alfred Nobel.
"I am overwhelmed to receive this award and thank the Royal Swedish Academy," Higgs said in a statement released by the University of Edinburgh.
"I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research."
Finding the particle in the CERN facility required teams of thousands of scientists and mountains of data from trillions of colliding protons in the world's biggest atom smasher — the Large Hadron Collider — which simulates theorized conditions 1 trillionth to 2 trillionths of a second after the Big Bang.
The collider, in a 17-mile tunnel beneath the Swiss-French border, cost $10 billion to build and run.
Only about one collision per trillion will produce one of the Higgs bosons in the collider, and it took CERN some time after the discovery of a Higgs-like boson to decide that the particle was, in fact, very much like the Higgs boson expected in the original formulation rather than a variant.
Al Jazeera and wire services