High-speed computers that run a thousand times faster than today’s top-notch machines could be on the cards after researchers in Tokyo discovered an off-the-shelf metallic material that can act as a superconductor.

Superconducting circuits can run about 1,000 times as fast as conventional CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) circuits because they offer no resistance to the flow of electricity. But superconductors exist only in laboratory conditions because they need to be artificially cooled to temperatures within a few degrees of absolute zero, or -273 degrees Celsius.

Scientists have spent decades searching for elusive high-temperature superconductors, so called because they could transmit currents without resistance at room temperature or near to it. The best achieved so far is a complex ceramic that retains its superconducting properties up to -139 degrees Celsius.

Researchers at Aoyama-Gakuin University in Tokyo have discovered that an extremely common and simple chemical - magnesium diboride - shows very promising superconducting characteristics, an article in science journal Nature reported.

Scientists hope the compound will provide a new starting point in the search for high-temperature superconductors, having reached a near dead-end with the ceramic materials.

Commenting in science journal Nature one scientist said the discovery was "stunning", adding that a simple compound that comes out of a bottle and shows a "gigantically high critical temperature" is an exciting combination.

The Nature article was pre-posted on the Web and will appear in the 1 March issue of the journal.