Professor Stephen Hawking. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty
Stephen Hawking, the British cosmologist who urged people
to "be curious" in the Paralympics opening ceremony, has landed
the richest prize in science for his work on how black holes
Wheelchair-bound Hawking won $3 million from Russian Internet
entrepreneur Yuri Milner, who set up his prize this year to
address what he regards as a lack of recognition in the
modern world for leading scientists.
Alongside Hawking, a second $3 million award has gone to the
scientists behind the discovery this year of a new subatomic
particle that behaves like the theoretical Higgs boson,
imagined almost half a century ago and responsible for
bestowing mass on other fundamental particles.
The scale of the awards from the Milner foundation - and
being able to give them to multiple recipients for huge
projects - could, over time, see them compete in prestige
terms with the annual Nobel prizes.
The Nobel committee has had to scale back the size of its
awards in line with the performance of the investments which
support it. Each prize is now worth $1.2 million, down from
about $1.5 million in recent years.
Diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21 and
told in 1963 he had two years to live, Hawking, now 70, has
become one of the world's most recognisable scientists after
guest appearances on The Simpsons and on Star Trek.
At the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games in London in
August, speaking through his computerised voice system, he
said: "Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Be
He was awarded the Special Fundamental Physics prize for what
the committee called his "deep contributions to quantum
gravity and quantum aspects of the early universe" as well
has his discovery that black holes emit radiation.
"No one undertakes research in physics with the intention of
winning a prize. It is the joy of discovering something no
one knew before," Hawking said in comments emailed to
"Nevertheless prizes like these prizes play an important role
in giving public recognition for achievement in physics."
Hawking said he planned to use the money to help his daughter
with her autistic son and may buy a holiday home.
He shares the limelight with leaders of the project to build
and run the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator
at the CERN research centre near Geneva, which led to the
discovery of the particle that is thought to be the boson
imagined by theorist Peter Higgs in 1964.
In the Standard Model, which governs scientific understanding
of the basic make-up of the universe, the Higgs boson gives
mass to other fundamental particles.
But in the half century before scientists at CERN started
smashing particles together in the LHC and studying the
results, it sat in the realm of theory.
Although the work of building the LHC and running experiments
in the particle accelerator involved thousands of scientists
and engineers, the prize has been awarded to past and present
The winners include the head of the LHC Lyn Evans, and the
two spokespeople, Fabiola Gianotti and Joe Incandela, who
presented the discovery to applause and cheers from the
gathered physicists at CERN earlier this year.
Michel Della Negra, another prize-winner who for 15 years
from 1990 led a team that built one of the two giant
detectors used to find the Higgs, said the award was a big
"I didn't even know the prize existed," he told Reuters.
Della Negra receives $250,000 because the $3 million is to be
split three ways between Evans, and the two teams working on
the Atlas and CMS detectors. Two leaders of the Atlas team
will get $500,000 each while the four from CMS get $250,000
Gianotti and Incandela both plan to put their prize money
back into science.
"We have 3,000 people from 38 countries in the Atlas
collaboration, so the money will be used for helping young
scientists who need financial support," Gianotti said.
Because the Nobel rules allow a maximum of three people to
share one prize, some scientists argue they are out of touch
with the large-scale collaborations that are a feature of
much modern research.
Milner's new prize is more flexible, significantly more
"I'm really impressed," said Incandela. "They are trying to
modernise the way prizes are done."