Francois Englert and Peter Higgs were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics early Tuesday for predicting the existence of the Higgs boson – often called the “God” particle, and the key to explaining why matter has mass.

Englert, 80, a theoretical physicist of the University Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, also is affiliated with the Institute for Quantum Studies at Chapman University, and is a research collaborator with an institute co-director, Chapman physicist Yakir Aharanov.

Article Tab: Francois Englert
Francois Englert

Higgs, 84, who gave the particle its name, is a theoretical physicist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The award was given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden.

In the 1960s, Englert and his now-deceased colleague, Robert Brout, as well as Higgs independently, proposed what came to be called the Brout-Englert-Higgs boson, a particle that is a manifestation of the Higgs field.

The field, they said, would permeate the universe; the more a particle interacted with the Higgs field, the more mass it would acquire.

Physicists spent decades searching for the Higgs boson, critical to what is known as the Standard Model of Quantum Physics.

The existence of a particle matching the long-sought Higgs was confirmed in July 2012 after experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

The experiments involved smashing together trillions of protons after acceleration to high speeds inside the collider’s 16-mile ring. The smashups occurred inside detectors that recorded the resulting spray of debris.

Thousands of scientists, with help from computers, sifted through the particle collisions to search for traces of the fleeting Higgs boson.

The Nobel was awarded “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of the mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider,” a statement from the Swedish Academy said.

“You don’t work thinking to get the Nobel prize; that’s not how you work,” Englert told reporters Tuesday. But he said he and his colleagues “had the impression that we were doing something that was important, that would later on be used by other researchers.”

Higgs said he was “overwhelmed” to receive the award, and thanked the Swedish Academy in a statement released by the University of Edinburgh, where he is an emeritus professor.

“I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research,” Higgs says in the statement.

The two physicists will split the $1.2 million prize.