Professor and Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy
Director, NASA Education and Public Outreach
Dr. Cominsky has been analyzing data on neutron star binaries from X-ray astronomy satellites for more than twenty-five years, beginning with her work on the UHURU satellite (and 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 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.
She joined the faculty at Sonoma State University in 1986, where she is now Professor of Physics and Astronomy. She became Chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department in 2004, and briefly chaired also the Department of Chemistry from August 2005 – January 2007.
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 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). As part of her ongoing collaboration with Stanford University , she is leading the effort to do Education and Public Outreach for GLAST, the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope. She also leads the Education and Public Outreach team for the Swift Gamma-ray burst MIDEX mission, launched by NASA 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 Sonoma State University. Cominsky also currently leads E/PO efforts for other missions under study for the Beyond Einstein program, including EXIST and SNAP, and a new hard x-ray focusing mission, NUSTAR.
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 for both the GLAST and Swift missions. In these positions, she often interprets astronomical discoveries to the public. She also gives many public lectures about the physics of nuclear weapons, nuclear waste disposal and other issues related to weapons of mass destruction. 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). She was appointed a CCST Fellow in 2008.