First observation of neutrinos, which may also be Majorana fermions.
First observation of neutrinos, which may also be Majorana fermions. Argonne National Laboratory

Somewhere out there in the big wide universe, every fundamental particle has a twin with an opposite charge, its antiparticle. An electron has a positron, a proton has an antiproton, and so forth. Under the right conditions, these particle pairs can destroy each other. But 80 years ago the physicist Ettore Majorana predicted that certain types of particles, in the fermion class, could be their own antiparticles—a sort of high physics yin/yang pairing.

Now a team of scientists at UCLA and Stanford have for the first time observed these special particles, known as Majorana fermions.

Using “exotic materials,” according to Science Daily, the scientists created an experiment in which particles would moving along a one-dimensional path in one direction. Using a magnet, they were able to make the particles change direction. At certain points in that cycle, when the particles switched directions, these Majorana particle emerged.

The scientists are calling the particles they coaxed out “Angel particles,” after the Dan Brown novel Angels & Demons, which features a bomb of matter and antimatter.

These lab-grown particles could contribute to advances in quantum computing, but they were created under very specific conditions. “It’s very unlikely that they occur out in the universe, although who are we to say?” one scientist who’s studying these particles said. But scientists still think it’s possible that some neutrinos could also be their own antiparticles, which would mean that these strange phenomena of physics, the Majorana particles, were everywhere.