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, and has been Professor of Physics and Astronomysince 1991. She chaired the Physics and Astronomy Department from 2004 - 2019, and also chaired the Department of Chemistry from August 2005 - January 2007 and for Fall semester 2018. 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 in 1999 and is the Project Director, Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigator on over $33 million in grants to SSU. In 2018, the group was renamed EdEon STEM Learning (link). EdEon's mission is to develop exciting formal and informal educational materials 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, with a special focus on increasing the numbers of under-represented students.
The SSU E/PO group’s largest NASA-funded project was 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 led 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 developed by the SSU E/PO group include an online Cosmology curriculum for undergraduates, and an innovative curriculum for secondary students to build small payloads for launch on high-powered rockets and balloons. Cominsky is also a scientific co-investigator on the Fermi, Swift and NuSTAR missions, and a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. From 2012 - 2014, the
SSU E/PO group developed an educator's guide for the NuSTAR mission.
In 2013, in partnership with SSU's Early Academic Outreach program led by Susan Wandling, Cominsky's group began to develop a ninth-grade integrated CSTEM curriculum called "Learning by Making." This project has now received over $7 million in funding over 10 years. Assessments of the first five year program showed significant gains in both science and math learning compared to control groups. The group developed two on-line courses, an informational video and an educator's guide during the time of the initial discoveries by LIGO through the NSF-funded project "Teaching Einstein's Universe to Community College students". The goal of this project is educate lower-division physics instructors about the science of LIGO and to provide resources for instructors to use in their calculus-based introductory physics classes.
Cominsky's most recent project is NASA's Neurodiversity Network (link), a five-year, $5 million effort to increase the number of neurodiverse high school students who participate in authentic NASA research through internships with NASA Subject Matter Experts, as well as re-developing NASA resources for use in informal venues with mixed audiences that include neurodiverse learners.
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. She served in the chair-line of APS California Section(renamed the Far West section) from 2011-2013. 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).
Recent awards include the 2014 Aerospace Awareness award from the Women in Aerospace professional organization, the 2015 Sally Ride Excellence in Education award from the American Astronautical Society and the 2016 Education prize from the American Astronomical Society.
Cominsky also was named the 2016 awardee of the Wang Family Excellence Award from the California State University system, in the category of Natural Sciences, Mathematical and Computer Sciences and Engineering. In 2017, Cominsky was awarded the Frank J. Malina Astronautics Medal from the International Astronautical Federationand was named a Fellow by the California Academy of Sciences In 2019, she was honored to be part of the initial "legacy" class of Fellows of the American Astronomical Society.