Synergistically combining resources from several other high-energy X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy missions, the Swift E/PO program from 1999 -2010 was aligned with all three of NASA’s Education Outcomes. Outcome 1: We have contributed to the development of the STEM workforce by working with ~50 students in partnership with SSU’s new MESA (Math, Engineering, Science Achievement) Engineering program and through similar programs at local community colleges. We have also engaged ~100 high school and college students in authentic Swift-inspired research experiences through our Global Telescope Network. Outcome 2: We have attracted and worked to retain hundreds of underserved students in STEM disciplines through after-school programs in partnership with local schools, where we use NASA-approved products to enhance science and technology education. We have also trained thousands of K-12 teachers with our popular and NASA-approved formal educational products. Outcome 3: We have built strategic partnerships with informal education providers to promote STEM literacy and awareness of NASA’s mission, inspiring tens of thousands of the public and young people through multi-media presentations, websites and the Night Sky Network and bringing exciting Swift mission science to diverse audiences.

Beginning in 2010, due to significant reductions in the Swift E/PO program budget, we have chosen to strategically focus our efforts on highly-leveraged and demonstrably successful activities, including the wide-reaching Astrophysics Educator Ambassador program, and our popular websites Epo’s Chronicles and the Gamma-ray Burst skymap site. We have also continued to make major contributions working collaboratively through the Astrophysics Science Education and Public Outreach Forum (SEPOF) on the on-line educator professional development course “NASA’s Multiwavelength Universe”.

Lead Organizations

Sonoma State University




The Swift E/PO program is synergistic with SSU’s other programs: XMM-Newton, NuSTAR and Fermi. Many products and program elements have been done in partnership with these programs and other external partners. 

  • Astronomical Society of the Pacific, joint with EPO programs for Fermi, XMM-Newton, and Suzaku (for Night Sky Network/amateur astronomy “Supernova” observing toolkit)
  • Great Explorations in Math and Science at the Lawrence Hall of Science, in Berkeley, CA (for “Invisible Universe from Radio Waves to Gamma-rays” GEMS guide)
  • E/PO programs for Fermi, XMM-Newton, NuSTAR, WISE, Kepler, GRAIL, and NSF LIGO program (for Educator Ambassador Program)
  • E/PO programs for Fermi, XMM-Newton, NuSTAR (for NASA’s Multiwavelength Universe program, coordinated by Astrophysics Science Education and Public Outreach Forum)
  • Penn State University, PSU Public Broadcasting, and Teacher’s Domain website (for Swift “Eyes Through Time” curriculum)
  • Penn State Public Broadcasting (for “What’s in the News” television news program plus online and supplementary material)
  • Sonoma State University, and EPO programs for Fermi, XMM-Newton, and NuSTAR (for Epo’s Chronicles)
  • 38 participating partners in the Global Telescope Network, gtn.sonoma.edu website, and EPO programs for Fermi and XMM-Newton (for robotic telescope observations by high-school students)
  • E/PO programs for Fermi and XMM-Newton, Roseland School District, Cali Calmecac English/Spanish immersion K-8 school, MESA (Roseland), Boys and Girls Club of Sonoma County (Cali) (for after-school programs)
  • E/PO program for Fermi (gamma-ray burst website: grb.sonoma.edu)
  • Other NASA Astrophysics mission EPO programs (International Year of Astronomy 2009 activities, including lithographs of the Go Observe objects, special Epo’s Chronicles episodes, Visions of the Universe library lectures by EAs, the Bay Area traveling exhibit and larger exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences and San Jose Tech Museum)
  • Fermi E/PO program, National Science Foundation, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, PBS NOVA and Tom Lucas Productions (“Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity” planetarium show and PBS NOVA show “Monster of the Milky Way”)




Additional Metrics: 


Materials distributed for Swift (1999-2013):

  • Newton’s Laws poster sets: 7000
  • GEMS guides: Over 6000 (including 2500 through SSU)
  • GRB education units: 3000
  • EM Spectrum poster featuring GEMS activity: ~40,000 through NSTA by Origins Forum
  • Swift paper models: 2500
  • Swift gliders: Over 6500
  • Swift stickers: 8000
  • IYA lithographs: over 18,000 distributed through the NSN clubs
  • Supernova! Toolkit through Night Sky Network – distributed to over 200 clubs in the NSN.Star parties done by NSN clubs using the toolkit have reached over 138,000 attendees through 1,284 events (through 2011). Of these events, 679 events reported including almost 25,000 minorities and over 39,000 women/girls.
  • K-12 teachers (indirect, through materials distributed or downloaded in FY12): 5333
  • K-12 students (indirect, through teachers above): 160,000

Website Statistics:

  • swift.sonoma.edu: Avg. unique IP addresses average about 9000 per month in 2013
  • Total of 99,422 unique IP addresses and 133463 visits in 2012.
  • grb.sonoma.edu: Avg. unique IP addresses average about 2100 per month in 2013
  • Total of 34,428 unique IP addresses and 55,092 visits in 2012
  • gtn.sonoma.edu: Avg. unique IP addresses average about 1200 per month in 2013
  • Total of 15,916 unique IP addresses and 20,311 visits in 2012
  • Epo’s Chronicles: Avg. unique IP addresses average about 7000 per month in 2013
  • Total of 80,008 unique IP addresses and 168,322 visits in 2012

Multi-media viewings/downloads:

  • Black Holes planetarium show: Over 30 venues
  • Black Holes NOVA show: Over 10 million initial viewers, not counting reruns, and viewing through website at PBS.
  • What’s in the News? Twelve episodes were produced, each was initially viewed by about 5 million middle-school students.
  • Podcast for IYA – over 6000 downloads for initial release on 9/16/2009

Informal Education:

  • Traveling IYA exhibit traveled around the San Francisco Bay Area to over 20 venues during 2009, with an estimated viewing by over 100,000 participants.
  • Larger IYA exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences and San Jose Tech Museum for six months each in 2009. Estimated viewing is 50,000 at each location.


Effectiveness and Impact

Evaluation findings:

Gamma Ray Burst Educator guide (Quotes from 2004 review of revised version follow):

  • Participants felt the GRB unit would be most useful in high school astronomy courses. However, Activity 1 is applicable to most any national or state science Standards as follows…Activity 1 is a clever, accessible, and authentic task for experiencing how scientists look for patterns among data that truly have not been explained previously and for which no strong prior hypotheses exist. Opportunities for such genuine and engaging inquiry are uncommon in school science curricula.
  • …this product addresses all contemporary standards for instructional design, for example: provision of tools/procedures for assessing students’ understanding; and provision of time allotments for each activity that generally were more realistic than in some prior products.

Newton’s Laws poster set: In 2003 a draft version of this poster set was reviewed by WestEd, and many significant changes were recommended. In 2006, these changes were finally implemented, and the poster set and activities were re-evaluated. The 2006 evaluation report summary included many strengths of the poster set:

  • Reviewers were very complimentary of the posters, overall, and also generally had positive to very positive views regarding the activities.
  • Appealing Artwork and Layout of Posters: Teachers overwhelmingly approved of the artwork, layout, and subject matter in the posters.
  • Grade-Appropriate and Standards-Based Subject Matter: All of the teachers interviewed said that Newton’s laws, scientific notation, and investigation were all standards that they must directly address during the school year. All teachers said the materials would fit well into grade-appropriate standards-based curricula they would be teaching this year.
  • Use of “Real Science” and Hands-on, Engaging Activities: Data from the expert review and teacher focus groups show that the posters and related activities are in part powerful because they tap into science that is used in the “real world,” and include activities that are hands-on and highly engaging. The links to websites showing real-life use of the science concepts were highly praised. Teachers said that most of their students would enjoy the activities and that materials needed for activities were readily accessible.

GRB website (2010): The overall reaction to the GRB site from study participants was very positive. Each of the four participants had unique feedback, providing information about how different types of users view the site. The Gamma-ray Burst Real-time Sky Map is a powerful and informative site. Currently, it is a valuable resource for professional and amateur astronomers. With more support added to the site, it could also be a useful vehicle for high school and college students to learn about gamma ray bursts, telescopes, and how GRBs are measured.

Impact evidence:

  • Educator Ambassador Program: The successful EA training events held every other year have developed a cohort of master teachers that are extremely successful trainers of other teachers. We have evaluations of all five EA training events held since 2002; each year we have done a better job in training these outstanding educators. In turn, the results of their evaluations done by the teachers that they are training, have also improved steadily.
  • GRB website: This website was revamped in response to the 2010 evaluation report and usage has steadily increased.
  • GRB Education Unit: Extensive formative evaluation by WestEd resulted in significant changes to the education unit prior to the NASA approval submission and subsequent public distribution.
  • Newton’s Laws posters: In 2008, WestEd performed an extensive evaluation of the usage of the Newton’s Laws posters. This evaluation found that teachers highly valued the posters as a tool for their instructional practice. A high percentage of teachers who had received the posters said they had hung them in their classroom and had used the posters and their accompanying activities in their lessons on Newton’s laws.
  • GEMS guide: Unlike most of our products, the Invisible Universe GEMS guide must be purchased from the GEMS group, and is not freely distributed by NASA. SSU distributed 2500 of these books through EA workshops, however an additional 4000+ were purchased by teachers nationwide (at a cost of about $25 each). The second printing in 2012 includes updates to GRB science and discoveries as a result of Swift’s discoveries.


Awards and Recognition:

CSWP Physicist of the Month

Lynn Cominsky was named CSWP Physicist of the Month for September, 2012 by the American Physical Society.

Women Honoring Women

In March 2013, Cominsky received an award from the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, which presents awards “Women Honoring Women” as part of Women’s History Month (which was, in fact, started in Sonoma County). “The "Women Honoring Women" award is given to outstanding women of the community who have made great efforts for the enhancement and well-being of women and girls.” Cominsky was honored for her “continuing work for the education of women and girls in the field of Science.’ Read more about it: http://www.sonoma.edu/workplace/2013/03/19/cominsky.html

American Physical Society Fellow  (Education division)

In 2009, Cominsky was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society (Education division) “For her seminal work to promote student and teacher education using NASA missions as inspiration.”

AAAS Fellow

In 2012, Lynn Cominsky was named a Fellow of the AAAS (announced on November 30, Astronomy division) for “her work in outreach for X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy (NuSTAR, Fermi, Swift and XMM) and for inspiring her undergraduate students at Sonoma State University.”