Image: Stephen Hawking
CERN file
Famed physicist Stephen Hawking visits the Large Hadron Collider's underground tunnel at Europe's CERN particle physics research center in 2006. Hawking and seven CERN researchers are receiving multimillion-dollar prizes from Russian billionaire Yuri Milner's foundation.
NBC News and news services
updated 12/11/2012 10:42:03 AM ET 2012-12-11T15:42:03

A Russian billionaire's foundation is awarding two special prizes of $3 million each to British cosmologist Stephen Hawking, and to seven scientists at the world's biggest particle collider.

Yuri Milner's Fundamental Physics Prize Foundation announced the awards in a statement Tuesday.

Hawking is honored for his discovery of Hawking radiation from black holes "and his deep contributions to quantum gravity and quantum aspects of the early universe," the foundation said.

The prize money for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, is being split among a scientist who oversaw the building of the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider and six physicists who oversaw two teams of 3,000 scientists each.

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

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 share the $3 million prize equally.

“It’s fantastic news," Evans said in a statement issued by CERN. "The tremendous performance of ATLAS, CMS and the LHC is witness to the skill and dedication of our many collaborators which we are very proud to represent."

The foundation also announced that five physicists would be eligible for $300,000 Physics Frontier Prizes. Those laureates include Charles Kane, Laurens Molenkamp, Shoucheng Zhang, Alexander Polyakov and Joseph Polchinski. These theorists will become nominees for a $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize in 2013, and those who do not receive that prize will each get $300,000, the foundation said.

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Three other theorists are receiving $100,000 New Horizons in Physics Prizes: Niklas Beisert, Davide Gaiotto and Zohar Komargodski.

The laureates were selected by past recipients of Milner's $3 million prizes.

"Choosing this year's recipients from such a large pool of spectacular nominations was a very difficult task," theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed, a member of the selection committee, said in Tuesday's statement. "The selected physicists have done transformative work spanning a wide range of areas in fundamental physics. I especially look forward to future breakthroughs from the first recipients of the New Horizons in Physics Prize."

More about the prize and the laureates:

This report includes information from NBC News and The Associated Press.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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