A particle that was hypothesized 80 years ago has finally been identified by researchers at Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo in a discovery that could impact the development of quantum computers.

The late Italian physicist Ettore Majorana predicted in 1937 that a particle existed that also contained its own antiparticle.

That led to those particles being dubbed Majorana fermions, but until now various attempts to pin down the elusive particle have proven unsuccessful.

However, the team led by Yuichi Kasahara, an associate professor of physics at Kyoto University, has published findings about an experiment using a magnetic insulator that confirmed the existence of the Majorana fermions.

"If we can develop a method for controlling the Majorana fermions, we may become closer to realizing a new form of quantum computer," Kasahara said.

In theory, a quantum computer could be much faster than the fastest supercomputer now operating.

The paper was published July 12 in the British science journal Nature.

Particles and their antiparticles, which have the exact opposite electrical characteristics, exist in space. But Majorana fermions were hypothesized to be unusual particles that also contain their antiparticles.

In the experiment, the team heated a type of magnetic insulator known as ruthenium chloride and then placed it within a magnetic field. The manner in which heat was transferred in the experiment could only be explained through the existence of Majorana fermions.

Other research reports have shown that Majorana fermions also exist in superconducters that have no electrical resistance.

The experiment did not confirm the existence of a totally new form of particle because the Majorana fermions confirmed are believed to have only experienced a change in the characteristics of the electron.

(This article was written by Ryosuke Nonaka and Tetsuya Ishikura.)