Why condensed matter physicists gather in a regional Australian farming town

Every year since 1977, physicists in the condensed matter and materials (CMM) fields have congregated in an Australian Institute of Physics (AIP) meeting affectionately known as “Wagga.”

That’s because the CMM meetings are traditionally held in the New South Wales town of Wagga Wagga, on the shores of the Murrumbidgee River, at the Charles Sturt University, 450 km west of Sydney.

Charles Sturt University offers science degrees as well as dedicated interdisciplinary studies in natural resources resilience and productivity; data, digital and spatial science; and animal and plant biosecurity.

This week Charles Sturt is again hosting the 46th annual CMM meeting.  So, why Wagga?

“It was a conference where local students could certainly get a go at presenting,” says organiser and chair of the event, Dr Wayne Hutchison – a senior lecturer and researcher in condensed matter physics at the University of New South Wales.

“It was also low cost. And it was situated in a location which is within a drive from Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, were the main hubs of activity, particularly in the early days. But it wasn’t a home institution for anybody.”

Due to the presence of physicists from New Zealand since the inception of the “Wagga” conference, the meetings have been held across the Tasman on several occasions over the years.

At Wagga 2024, a range of expertise in experimental and theoretical physics is on show.

“With condensed matter physics in Australia, there is a large spectrum of research,” in chimes Wagga veteran Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson from the University of Melbourne.

“As a program or an organising committee, you’re not biased against anything. If it’s good science, we’re interested in it. You can see over the years, the trends,” Hutchison notes.

Previous Wagga meetings have seen huge excitement over developments in solid state and condensed matter physics. Hutchison notes that, in the early 1990s, there was a great deal of interest at the conference over the first recorded high-temperature superconductors (superconductors with critical temperatures above 77 kelvin, or -196.2°C).

Physicists talking about posters at conference
Some of the posters at the 2024 “Wagga” meeting. Credit: Evrim Yazgin.

Talks, presentations and posters have been on display at Wagga 2024 covering a broad range of topics.

Among them are the results of neutron scattering experiments done at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s Taipan device; how to produce graphite for safer batteries; and new semiconductor and superconductor technologies under theoretical and production development.

Cosmos is at Wagga 2024 to gather information from physics and materials science that is being worked on by researchers around Australia and the broader region.

The Australian Institute of Physics paid Cosmos journalist Evrim Yazgin’s accommodation costs.

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