Dr. Lynn Cominsky - NASA Fermi Astrophysicist, Fermi Press Officer, and Education and Public Outreach Lead
Dr. Lynn Cominsky is an astrophysicist with decades of research experience and is also the Fermi Press Officer, and Education and Public Outreach lead. She works at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California, where she is also the Chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department.
Cominsky has been analyzing data on neutron star binaries from X-ray astronomy satellites for more than twenty-five years. Her work began on the UHURU satellite (and the 4U catalog), prior to attending graduate school.
While a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and using data from the Small Astronomy Satellite (SAS-3), she discovered X-ray pulsations from 4U0115+63 (together with George Clark). 4U0115+63 is a recurrent transient X-ray pulsar in a moderately eccentric orbit with a Be-star companion, V635 Cas. These pulsations were then used to show that transient X-ray sources were in binary systems. Her thesis work 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 the University of California at Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, and using a combination of SAS-3 and High Energy Astronomy Observatories (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 and neutron-star binary system, MXB1659-29.
During the next two years, Cominsky managed various aspects of the Extreme UltraViolet Explorer (EUVE) Satellite project, including the design of the science operations and ground data analysis system.
She joined the faculty at Sonoma State University in 1986, where she is now Professor of Physics and Astronomy and the chair of the Department.
She has been a Guest Investigator on many X-ray and gamma-ray satellite experiments including: HEAO A-1, EXOSAT, ROSAT, RXTE and the BATSE, EGRET and Oriented Scintillation Spectrometer Experiment instrument (OSSE) experiments on board CGRO. Her observational goals have been to increase the understanding of the physics of mass transfer in neutron star and blackhole X-ray binaries.
Since 1992, Dr. Cominsky has been a Visiting Scientist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), Menlo Park, Calif. As part of her on-going collaboration with Stanford University, she was selected to lead the effort in Education and Public Outreach for the Fermi.
Cominsky also leads the Education and Public Outreach team for the Swift Gamma-ray burst Explorer mission, launched by NASA in 2004. A third NASA educational project, Space Mysteries: Interactive Web Activities that teach Physical Science and Mathematics, was developed under her leadership during 1999-2002. 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 Sonoma State University. Cominsky also currently leads E/PO efforts for other missions under study for the Beyond Einstein program, including EXIST and SNAP.
Highlights of Dr. Cominsky's research career include the discovery of pulsations from the first X-ray transient shown to be in a binary system, the discovery of eclipses from an X-ray burst source, which revealed the first precise orbital period for a low mass X-ray binary, and the discovery of X-ray emission from the only radio pulsar in a binary orbit with a Be star.
She has been a member of many different NASA advisory committees, including the Chandra User's Group, and the Structure and Evolution of the Universe Subcommittee of the Space Sciences Advisory Committee to NASA. She is the Deputy Press Officer for the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and the Press Officer and 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).
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