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Space is a Cabaret

Lynda Williams, a Sac State alumna, nationally acclaimed physicist and professor at San Francisco State UniversityIf Lynda Williams were coining catch phrases, this would be her latest: Physics isn’t just a private club, it’s a modern priesthood.

“Like priests, scientists are coming up with theories about our origins and in many ways, physicists are modern cosmic priests.” Williams says. “The primary difference is physicists use mathematics rather than gods as metaphors to describe the indescribable and they practice experiments rather than mystical rituals to invoke and test the forces of nature. For me to put on a cocktail dress and dance around is, in some ways, blasphemy. It is downright pagan.”

Williams—a Sac State alumna, nationally acclaimed physicist and professor at San Francisco State University—regularly performs comedic cabaret-style physics lectures throughout the country. She portrays the Physics Chanteuse, who Williams describes as a smart, savvy, silly and sexy science entertainer, a Bette Midler meets Carl Sagan meets Sandra Bernhard meets Bill Nye meets Laurie Anderson type of science entertainer.

“Physicists, like anyone else, need to see themselves in a social context and engage in self-criticism about what they are doing because the ramifications often reach far beyond their laboratories,” Williams says. “I think comedy is a safe way to do that. It gives people a socially acceptable and fairly painless way to bring up taboos and fears while laughing about it. The cocktail dress provides a shock value that hopefully snaps them out of the intellectual pews and reminds them that, hey, science is not a church. It’s a cabaret, baby, and everyone is invited to come and play.”

Williams’ performances have attracted a flurry of media attention from the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. According to People Magazine, “Williams puts the fizz back in physics.”

Williams, who started out as a journalism major in college, credits Sac State professor James Phelps as her mentor. “If not for Phelps’ mentoring and guidance I would not be a physicist today,” she said.

Williams has performed for professional science organizations including the American Physics Society and the American Astronomical Society. She also regularly produces a show at the San Francisco Planetarium Museum.

She co-owns Science Entertainment with her sister, Bergen
Williams, a screenplay writer, actress and director. Together the Williams sisters have produced more than a dozen stage and media projects with scientific themes. Their mission is to produce science media and products that are accessible, educational and entertaining.

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