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Senior Fellows
Lynn R. Cominsky
Professor and Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy,
Director, NASA Education and Public Outreach, Sonoma State University

Areas of Interest:

astronomy, science education and outreach, nuclear weapons and waste disposal

Dr. Cominsky's research career began at Brandeis University, where she received a B.A. in physics with honors in Chemistry, and graduated magna cum laude. She did research at Brandeis with Prof. Irving Epstein on the Belusov oscillating reaction. After graduating, she worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where she began analyzing data from X-ray astronomy satellites beginning with the UHURU satellite (and helping to compile the 4U catalog), prior to attending graduate school. While a graduate student at M. I. T., and using data from the SAS-3 satellite, she discovered X-ray pulsations from 4U0115+63 (together with George Clark); these pulsations were then used to show that transient X-ray sources were in binary systems. Her thesis work with Profs. Walter Lewin and Paul Joss, was entitled "X-ray Burst Sources" and consisted of extensive analysis of the SAS-3 timing and spectral data, as well as theoretical thermonuclear flash modeling. During a post-doctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, and using a combination of SAS-3 and HEAO A-1 data, she (and Kent Wood) discovered the 7.1 h X-ray binary period and the first eclipses from an X-ray burst source, MXB1659-29. Another highlight of Dr. Cominsky's research career was the discovery of X-ray emission from the first radio pulsar found to be in a binary orbit with a Be star, PSR 1259-63.

For two years following her post-doctoral work at UC Berkeley, Dr. Cominsky managed various aspects of Prof. Stuart Bowyer's Extreme UltraViolet Explorer Satellite project, including the design of the science operations and ground data analysis system.

Cominsky joined the faculty at Sonoma State University in 1986, where she is now Professor of Physics and Astronomy. She has been Chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department since 2004, and briefly chaired also the Department of Chemistry from August 2005 - January 2007. In 1992, Dr. Cominsky began a collaboration with scientists (including Prof. Elliott Bloom) at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), which led directly to her involvement in the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) project.

Prof. Cominsky founded the Education and Public Outreach group at Sonoma State University in 1999 and is the Project Director, Principal Investigator on over $12 million in grants and final technical reviewer for all products. The mission of the SSU E/PO group is to develop exciting formal and informal educational materials that use high-energy space science as a means to inspire students in grades 5-14 to pursue STEM careers, to train teachers nation-wide in the classroom use of these materials, and to enhance science literacy for the general public.

The SSU E/PO group's largest project is the Education and Public Outreach program for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope mission. Launched on June 11, 2008, Fermi (formerly known as GLAST) is a space mission that uses silicon strip detectors to observe cosmic gamma-radiation from objects such as pulsars and quasars in the energy range 10 MeV - 300 GeV. Cominsky's group also leads the Education and Public Outreach team for the Swift Gamma-ray burst mission, launched on November 20, 2004. In 2003, Cominsky assumed the lead for the outreach effort for the US portion of the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite. From 1999-2005, Cominsky was also the Principal Investigator and Faculty Advisor for the North Bay Science Project, a California Science Project site located at SSU. Other major projects currently under development by the SSU E/PO group include an online Cosmology curriculum for undergraduates, and the development of a curriculum for secondary students to build small payloads for launch on high-powered rockets and balloons. In 2012, NuSTAR was launched, and Cominsky's group is now developing materials to explain this focusing hard x-ray mission to the public. In addition to leading the E/PO efforts, Cominsky is also a scientific co-investigator on the Fermi, Swift and NuSTAR missions, and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. She is also a Co-PI on a recently funded NSF proposal to improve the retention and graduation rates of SSU students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. A major part of the NSF program involves the development of an innovative freshman year experience focusing on environmental sustainability.

Cominsky has been a member of many different advisory committees, including the Chandra User's Group, the Structure and Evolution of the Universe Subcommittee of NASA's Space Sciences Advisory Committee, and the LIGO Program Advisory Committee. She has served on the Executive committees for the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society, and for the Division of Astrophysics of the American Physical Society. Currently she is also Chair of the APS California Section. For a decade, she was the Deputy Press Officer for the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and she continues as the Press Officer for both the Fermi and Swift missions. In these positions, she often interprets astronomical discoveries to the public. In 1993, Dr. Cominsky was named both SSU Outstanding Professor and California Professor of the Year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). In 2008, Cominsky was named a Fellow of the California Council on Science and Technology, in 2009, she was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society (Education) and in 2013, she was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Astronomy).


Updated 3/6/14

Senior Fellows Roster