IOP Physics Education
Featuring relationships,personalities,interactions,environments and reputations involved in physics and education
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IOP Physics Education Journal: http://www.iop.org/EJ/S/UNREG/ZJIiwJQsPVOEKxh7QuurdQ/journal/PhysEd
Physics, sex and politics
Kerry Parker talks to Lynda Williams, the Physics Chanteuse
The Physics Chanteuse in action.
High school ‘failure’ Williams grew up in California
and like many of her friends she messed about at school,
involved with too many other teenage preoccupations
to be bother with studies or classes. She began to study
when she got to Community College and eventually
got a BS in Physics and Maths. (She went back and told
her Math teacher about her success: she knew he would
remember telling her that she would never get any-where
in Math.) From university graduation she took
five years ‘off’ and worked as a video performance
artist, working in interactive installations, gradually
moving into performance with science themes. She
went back to university to do an MS with the intention
of moving into TV, but she went into teaching and developed
her act as ‘The Physics Chanteuse’: a sexually
provocative, politically barbed entertainment which
made her a popular after-dinner entertainer amongst
Reinventing herself again, Lynda moved to New York
and started to study for a PhD in the summer of 2001,
but the events of September 11 have changed her think-
ing. She gave up the PhD, and is now much more reflective,
hoping to write and teach back in California.
‘I’m still running from the towers… I want to see na-ture
before it is all destroyed’, she told me as we sat in
a bar during the AAPT winter meeting in Philadelphia,
where Lynda had been explaining how to create
Powerpoint Karaoke Physics.
What do you hate about physics?
Hate is such a negative word, one we need to hear less
of in this world, so I prefer not to use it. What I dislike
in physics is our lack of social responsibility or moral
conscience. We produce weapons of mass destruction
and nuclear power that endangers and pollutes the world.
We build billion dollar labs to do esoteric research projects
such as searching for the Higgs field, when there
are much more important problems to apply our brain
power to now, such as developing sustainable energy
sources or dealing with nuclear waste. We have a real
Frankenstein complex—scientific discovery at any
cost. But progress at any cost is too expensive. We
are technologically sophisticated but socially retarded
and we need to bring that into balance.
Physicists suffer from a ridiculous sense of superiority
and entitlement—the ‘rocket scientist’ complex.
The cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider
was a mega-shock to the community. For the first time
since the Manhatten Project, physicists were told No.
So now they are running scared to the ‘outreach’ specialists
to educate the public about their research but it
really is more of a publicity campaign than an educational
effort. They want the people to support their re-search
without question. NASA doesn’t include
criticism or debate in its educational materials. There
is no environmental impact lesson plan about the risk
of launching plutonium-powered probes from Earth
or discussion of whether the search for life on Mars is
really relevant or a priority. I think physics is out of
sync with the real world. We need to educate people so
they are politically empowered, not ideologically
cloned ‘anything-goes’science sheep.
What is your biggest disappointment in physics?
My biggest disappointment is that physics is so dis-connected
from Nature. We say we study nature but it
has become so specialized that we can’t see the living
being through its atoms, and that has dangerous con-sequences.
We perpetuate the illusion that science is
objective and without social influence, and that is sim-ply
absurd! We have disdain for social sciences and lib-eral
arts, which is really stupid because it is all just
different ways of looking at and for truth.
We need to evolve out
of our addiction to
power and explosions
Physicists —just say
NO to Star War !
We have lost touch with our origins as Natural Philosophers and have
become narrow-minded logical technicians working
for the profit of powers who are often doing treat harm to nature. It is
really shameful. I am also very disappointed
in some of our research choices. For ex-ample,
we are spending incredible amounts of human
and economic resources trying to achieve
sustainable fusion when there is all the fusion energy
we could ever need coming from the Sun!
There is wind and wave power! We are obsessed
with our own selfish intellectual
pursuits. This is why it is critical that we have
a scientifically literate voting population: so everyone
can participate in making decisions about the direction
science takes and keep scientists in check.
We are at a very, very dangerous crossroads in the
world. The US wants to build a so-called Missile
Defense system, and guess who is going to build it?
Physicists! A Star Wars system in space is the wrong
direction for the world. Unfortunately we are a lot bet-ter
at building bombs than building peace. We need
to evolve out of our addiction to power and explosions
and weapons. Physicists—just say NO to Star Wars!
What turns you on about physics?
I’m a natural philosopher and I studied physics because
I wanted to understand how the universe came into existence.
I also think physics is the most powerful tool hu-mans
have for understanding the laws of nature and the
cosmos. It is amazing to me that we can study the origin
and evolution of the universe. Science fact is so much
more bizarre than science fiction. I love it! It makes my
brain go yum-yum. And I also like the thrill of problem
solving—the beauty and elegance of deriving Maxwell’s
equations. The best thing about physics is the training—
it really teaches you to think and reason. It gets your brain
into shape for the rest of your life. That is what I tell my
students, study physics and you’ll be smarter the rest
of your life! Physics is the ultimate mental gymnastics.
The Physics Chanteuse has her own website at:
and can be contacted by e-mail at:email@example.com