Lynn Cominsky

Professor and Director - Sonoma State University


Sweet Home, Amherst, New York, USA

Brandeis University

Chemistry and Physics (BA)


Physics (PhD)

Lynn Cominsky is part of NASA's Science Activation Program (SciAct). SciAct has projects and NASA teams across the U.S. that are helping learners of all ages do science!

What first sparked your interest in science, technology, engineering, and/or math?

Linn Cominsky

I was always good at math but thought that science was not for me. I did well in chemistry in high school but did not take physics due to lack of interest. In college, I continued to study chemistry and the chemistry major required physics. I did not do very well, but was later persuaded to take additional physics courses to complete a double major. In the 1970s, computer science was not yet an actual field that could be chosen as a major, so the courses all counted towards a physics degree.

I took one more physics course (Modern Physics) and fell in love with it when I learned about the differential equations that explained the structure of the periodic table. And then I graduated from college and got a job using my computer background at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics helping to analyze data from Uhuru, the very first X-ray astronomy satellite.

I have always been a big science fiction fan, so when I found out that I could get paid to study black holes, I went to graduate school at MIT and finally learned physics!

What Science Activation project(s) are you affiliated with?

I lead NASA's Neurodiversity Network, which aims to provide a pathway to NASA participation and STEM employment for neurodiverse learners, with a focus on the autism spectrum. We are matching these high school interns with subject matter experts for a wide range of summer projects that span NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. We are also redeveloping existing NASA informal education resources to ensure that they can be used by everyone.

Tell us about your job. What do you do?

I am a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Sonoma State University, which is a predominantly undergraduate institution in northern California. I am also the Director of EdEon STEM Learning (formerly the Education and Public Outreach group), which I founded in 1999.

EdEon’s mission is to develop exciting formal and informal educational materials that 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, with a special focus on increasing the numbers of underrepresented students. On a daily basis, I spend most of my time in front of a computer, either doing teleconferences or answering email. EdEon is entirely grant-funded, so I also spend time writing proposals for new work, and working on ongoing projects.

What's one piece of advice you would give to someone interested in learning more about science?

Please study as much mathematics as you can. If you know math, you can change your mind repeatedly about your exact career direction, but without a good mathematical foundation, your choices will be very limited.

What is your favorite science image or visualization, and why?

Cover of Nature magazine illustration depicting two merging neutron stars

My current favorite scientific visualization was created by EdEon's amazing illustrator and was featured on the cover of Nature magazine. In this image, Aurore Simonnet depicts the merging of two neutron stars that are emitting gravitational waves at the same time as a jet of gamma rays is beamed from the system, creating a gamma-ray burst.

Who inspires you?

Women scientists who do amazing work across all fields of science.

What are some fun facts about yourself?

I live at the Little H-bar Ranch in Petaluma, California, where I am a servant to three horses, two miniature horses, two cats, three chickens, a three-legged goat, and one dog. I ride the big horses on the weekends and love to go camping with my main horse, Jackson. You can see photos of the ranch and the critters through links from my faculty page.

I also really like to build and launch rockets, and belong to Aeropac, which is part of the Tripoli Rocketry Association. I achieved Level 2 certification in 2011 at Black Rock, Nevada.

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