The Physics Chanteuse

Like the Cernettes, Lynda Williams is out to entertain, but she also has a more serious agenda. "I didn't know what science was until I was an adult, " she says, and urges other young people not to fall into the same trap. She chose philosophy at college where her professor gently guided her towards physics. "Particle physics was my first true love!" Lynda exclaims, and like all first loves it demanded to be shouted from the rooftops. With a passion for music and dance, Lynda was better equipped than most to do the shouting. And so with a Masters in physics, she created the Physics Chanteuse, a well polished one-woman show doing the rounds of conferences in the Western US and Canada.

Each conference is different, and each show is tailored to fit. At her first gig, the 44th Midwest Solid State Conference in October 1996 she was Marilyn Monroe, tickling delegates' diodes with Carbon is a Girl's Best Friend. At the IEEE conference on Compound Semiconductors she was in a Solid State of Mind. And for the 1997 Particle Accelerator Conference, she brought the Kit-Kat Club to Vancouver with her rendition of Sally Bowles' Cabaret.

"Lynda established a new standard with her unique vernacular, " said Herb Gronokin of her performance at The 24th International Symposium on Compound Semiconductors. And as Gary Prinz remarked, she gets the physics right: "At one point, she made a very esoteric reference to some solid-state work, and I thought, there must be 12 people in the world who know about that."

Lynda's day job is teaching physics at the San Francisco State University where she encourages her charges to "Get your mind muscles in shape while you are young and you will get much more work and pleasure out of them in the long run". She tells them that science is for everyone, not just for experts, and that it is their "duty to be scientifically literate so that you can participate in the high-tech world we live in". But as well as teaching them, she's learning from them too. "I am learning a lot more about physics as a teacher than I ever learned as a student, " she says, and she feeds it all back in to the Physics Chanteuse. Physics teachers were never like that in my day.

A Lynda Williams gig is pure entertainment, but if you listen closely enough, you'll hear a message coming through loud and clear. Science is good for you, and what's more, it can be fun. It's a message for everyone, but girls in particular, and it is encapsulated in the song High-Tech Girl which goes to the tune of Madonna's Material Girl:

"Some boys kiss me, some boys hug me

I think they're passé

if they can't talk about quantum theory

I just walk away.

I like geeks and I like nerds

at least they see the light.

Science is my first true love

Cuz it excites my mind."

Perhaps if that CERN person had talked to Lynda back in 1990, she would have thrown her lot in with her Romeo and his collider. But then we'd never have had the Cernettes, and the world of physics would be a poorer place for it.