Until then, Williams, 36, has a day job, teaching physics at San Francisco State University. But in her off hours, billed as the Physics Chanteuse, she sings and cracks jokes at Bay Area theaters and scientific conventions. At a recent show in San Francisco she crooned hits with her own lyrics ("A lithium dose may cure your depression/ But carbon is a girl's best friend...") with a torch singer's smokiness. "She does these wonderful parodies," says Jim Kelley, a dean at State, "but she also does justice to the physics." (Not that it's all easy listening. Consider this lyric: "Gluons are strong! They make a quantum-chromo glue/ Binding quarks into atoms like I am bound to you." Cole Porter might not get the picture.)
Performing came naturally to Williams, who grew up in rural Auburn, Calif., and at 16 taught disco at an Arthur Murray dance studio. After graduating from Cal State Sacramento in 1987 with a degree in math, she worked as a go-go dancer and began developing a show linking go-go and time travel. In 1996, a year before she earned a master's in physics, she was invited to perform at a science conference in Nebraska, where she made her own big bang.
Williams lives in San Francisco and spends her free time with boyfriend Jeffrey Harpain, 33, a financial analyst. And just in case Broadway doesn't pan out, she's got a backup plan: "I'd like to do pop songs," she says. "I'd love to be the Madonna of science."