Dr. Laura Peticolas is Associate Director of the Education and Public Outreach Group at Sonoma State University. Dr. Peticolas received her B.A. in mathematics and physics at the University of Oregon Honors College and her Ph.D. in physics studying the aurora at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. She spent 3 years as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California’s Space Sciences Laboratory continuing her study of Earth’s aurora using NASA’s Fast Auroral SnapshoT satellite data and computational models. During this time, she expanded her research to include developing computer models of the Martian aurora. She continued these computational research efforts while transitioning to the profession of education and outreach in 2008. Dr. Peticolas’ research continues to be referenced and used in scientific research involving aurora and the transport of electrons in atmospheric phenomena. In 2010, she became a Senior Fellow at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, and Director of Multiverse, the Space Sciences Laboratory’s education group. This move completed her transition from science research to science education as a focus.
Dr. Peticolas has over 15 years of experience in the education and outreach profession. Leading several NSF- and NASA-funded national science education programs, she and the teams she worked with provided professional development to educators on topics in physics, earth science, and space science. Projects also included professional development on cross-cultural collaborations and Indigenous Ways of Knowing to educators, primarily those teaching in out-of-school settings like museums. Dr. Peticolas was the Principal Investigator (P.I.) of the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the Space Sciences Laboratory, taking over for Dr. Claire Raftery. Dr. Peticolas led the effort to crowd-source high quality photographs across the path of totality during the 2017 total eclipse of the Sun in the United States, a project called the “Eclipse Megamovie.” She continues to be on the Eclipse Megamovie team as the over 50,000 photographs are analyzed for scientific discoveries.
Today, she works with the E/PO team at Sonoma State University in order to engage teachers, high school students and college freshmen in earth and astronomy participatory experiences using coding, hardware, and experimental design. Dr. Peticolas’ passion for equity, inclusion, and social justice influences all of her science and engineering education work.
During her free time, she enjoys going to the beach or the mountains with her boys; playing board and word games with her partner, friends, and family; and helping in her community with such things as affordable housing for all.