College of Science & Engineering Alumni Newsletter

Fall 1997

Going Where No Man Has Gone Before

The "Physics Chanteuse"

Singing and dancing her way into the hearts of physicists across the country, San Francisco State University alumna Lynda Williams is the "physics chanteuse."

"I study the nature of the universe, then I sing and dance and make media about it," explains Williams, who was the subject of an article in the March issue of Physics Today.

Her act is as extravagant and campy as it is scientifically savvy. She writes original songs or sets old standards to new lyrics, such as "I'm in a Solid State of Mind" and "Carbon is a Girl’s Best Friend," à la Marilyn Monroe. Her "Hi Tech Girl" is a take on Madonna’s "Material Girl." Indeed, Williams could be called the ultimate "high-tech girl," bringing video, web technology and physics together with cabaret’s singing, dancing and repartee.

She grew up in Auburn, California and earned a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics at CSU Sacramento. After working for many years in multimedia production, she earned her master's degree in physics at SFSU in order to integrate knowledge of physics into her media and performance. "I’d been riding the fence between wanting to be a scientist and wanting to be an artist, and then I realized that I could merge the two together, as a science entertainer."

In the tradition of cabaret, Williams satirizes many of the most provocative political and ethical issues in science today, like women in science, funding, and nuclear and energy policies. "Money makes science go round (as they say in Cabaret)...and I try to push buttons in a funny way. This gig gives me the unique opportunity to express my opinions to some major players in physics—whether they listen or not depends on how well I express myself."

At heart both a scientist and performance artist, she has performed at the 44th Midwest Solid State Conference at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the US Particle Accelerator School in Berkeley, the APS Particle Accelerator Conference in Vancouver, and the IEEE Symposium on Compound Semiconductors in San Diego recently. Herb Goronkin, Chair of the IEEE symposium, said of her performance, "She established easy rapport with a notoriously difficult audience of engineers and scientists."

Jim Kelley, Dean of the College of Science and Engineering, agrees. "She’s really good. She thoroughly prepares for her performances by reading up on the latest research and interviewing physicists working in the field. And she's a great entertainer to boot."

This summer she appeared at the 10th Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems and the Sun, sponsored by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Attended by the leading scientists in astrophysics, Geoff Marcy said of his former student: "In physics, we pride ourselves on other-worldly creative thinking, the kind that leads to theories of black holes and quantum gravity, never before imagined. Lynda has done us one better, by transcending the boundaries of science, and exploring a cocktail of physics, education, and Hollywood."

Although she's had to keep her day job—manager of the New Genre Department at the San Francisco Art Institute—she’s writing new material for upcoming gigs at the Advanced Light Source group at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, the American Association of Physics Teachers meeting in January, and the Women in Science and Engineering at Texas A & M in February.

Lynda Williams can be reached at, or visit her multimedia web site at

"Some folks like astronomy and study galaxies in the local group.
Some like quantum gravity pulling superstrings from the cosmic soup.
But I'm pointing my laser at an earthly crystalline.
I'm in a solid state of mind."
--from "Solid State of Mind,"
words by Lynda Williams, M.S, Physics & Astronomy, 1996

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Updated by Lannie Nguyen-Tang on August 3rd, 2000