(British physicist Peter Higgs (R) talks with Belgium physicist Francois Englert before a news conference update in the search for the Higgs boson at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva July 4, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

Britain’s Peter Higgs and Francois Englert of Belgium won the Nobel Prize for physics on Tuesday for predicting the existence of the Higgs boson particle that explains how elementary matter attained the mass to form stars and planets.

The insight has been hailed as one of the most important in the understanding of the cosmos. Without the Higgs mechanism all particles would travel at the speed of light and atoms would not exist.

Half a century after the scientists’ original prediction, the new building block of nature was finally detected in 2012 at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) centre’s giant, underground particle-smasher near Geneva.

“I am overwhelmed to receive this award,” said Higgs, who is known to shun the limelight and did not appear in public on Tuesday despite winning the world’s top science prize.