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Stephen Hawking, CERN scientists nab $3 million physics prize set up by Russian billionaire

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, who made his fortune investing in some of the top Silicon Valley companies, has announced the latest recipients of his Fundamental Physics Prize.

The Russian billionaire announced Tuesday that the Fundamental Physics Prizes have been awarded to Stephen Hawking, the former Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, and seven CERN scientists involved in the search for the elusive Higgs boson.

Hawking, who is widely viewed as one of the most important physicists in modern history, said in an email to the U.K.’s Guardian that he hoped the award would increase awareness of his work and the world of science.

“No one undertakes research in physics with the intention of winning a prize. It is the joy of discovering something no one knew before. Nevertheless prizes like these play an important role in giving public recognition for achievement in physics. They increase the stature of physics and interest in it,” he wrote. “Although almost every theoretical physicist agrees with my prediction that a black hole should glow like a hot body, it would be very difficult to verify experimentally because the temperature of a macroscopic black hole is so low.”

The laureates include Lyn Evans, a Welsh scientist who serves as the LHC’s project leader; Peter Jenni and Fabiola Gianotti of the LHC’s ATLAS collaboration; and Michel Della Negra, Tejinder Singh Virdee, Guido Tonelli and Joe Incandela of the CMS collaboration.

“It was a huge surprise,” Incandela said in a statement.  “When I was first told about it, I was literally speechless.”

The Milner Foundation said the seven were being honored “for their leadership role in the scientific endeavor that led to the discovery of the new Higgs-like particle by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.” They will reportedly split the $3 million prize equally.

“I am very much pleased with the decisions of the Selection Committee,” said Yuri Milner. “I hope that the prizes will bring further recognition to some of the most brilliant minds in the world and the great accomplishments they have produced.”

Hawking also told the Guardian that he plans on spending the prize money on his grandson and a holiday home.