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.