Dr. Rhaana Starling

Associate Professor

MSci Hons. Astrophysics (St. Andrews, 1999), PhD (MSSL/UCL, 2004), PGCAPHE (U. Leicester, 2015), FHEA

Tel: 0116 252 5388

Email: rlcs1 @ le.ac.uk

Office: Room F19a, Physics Building

Personal details

I graduated from the University of St. Andrews with an MSci Astrophysics with honours. I worked as a research assistant investigating the role of viscosity in active galactic nucleus (AGN) accretion discs at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts before taking up a PhD position at Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL. My thesis probed the central engines of AGN, primarily using X-ray observations from the then recently launched XMM-Newton satellite. I began my research in the field of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) in an EU-funded postdoctoral position at the University of Amsterdam, following the afterglows of these elusive high energy transients with ground-based optical telescopes. In 2006 I moved to Leicester, joining the X-ray Telescope team providing satellite operations support for the top-ranked NASA Swift mission. In 2011 I was awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship to further my work in the area of GRBs and high energy transient sources, and subsequently joined the academic staff as a Lecturer and now Associate Professor.

Professional activities

I have been a member and co-chair of NASA, ESA, ESO and Royal Society review panels for grants and observing time, South African government reviews, and referee ground-based observing proposals and journal articles. I hold International Astronomical Union membership and Higher Education Academy fellowship. I sat on the Royal Society Diversity Committee 2014-2016 and was named University Equalities Champion in 2017 at the University of Leicester Discovering Excellence Awards. I was 2019 ASTRON Helena Kluyver visiting fellow.

Science communication

In 2018/19 I worked with Sandfield Close Primary School through a Royal Society Partnership Grant on an innovative mathematics project. In March 2016 our department hosted the ESA-commissioned photographic exhibition: Space Girls Space Women. I have lead the organisation of this activity and other equality and diversity events.

I am pleased to have been a member of the 2014 shortlisting panel for the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize, and have assisted with the organisation of local events for BBC Stargazing LIVE.

I have been involved in a wide range of outreach activities over the years, at museums, schools and summer schools. Most recently I have spoken at the National Space Centre SpaceLates (Jan 2020), and Pint of Science festival (May 2019). I have appeared on panels (e.g. the Ed Stagg Show, the Ben Jackson breakfast show), interviews and Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Leicester.

A day in the life of an astrophysicist is captured in this Test-Tube/YouTube video, which follows myself and a colleague for a day on-call.

Administrative Duties

I hold or have held the following administrative roles for the department or college:

Accessibility Tutor for undergraduate students in the School of Physics & Astronomy.

Former member of Learning & Teaching Committee and Student-Staff Committees for Physics and STEM Foundation Year.

2014-2019: Chair of the Departmental Equality and Diversity Committee and lead on successful Athena SWAN Bronze Award (2018) and IOP Juno Practitioner renewal (2015,2019).

Undergraduate teaching

I am a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and hold a Postgraduate Certificate of Academic Practice in Higher Education (awarded 2015). I am the Accessibility Tutor, and teach or have taught the following undergraduate elements:

  • STEM Foundation Year  Waves & Matter (units1-2) and Electricity & Magnetism (units 4-5, module leader)
  • First year Light & Matter (unit 2, module leader)
  • Second year laboratory (team member)
  • Third year Specialist Research Project (supervisor)
  • Third year Physics Challenge (team member)
  • Fourth year Research Project (supervisor)
  • Fourth year Literature Review Project (supervisor)
  • Fourth year Radiative Processes (units 3-4)
  • Tutorials across all year groups



Selected publications

View a full publications list.

View publication preprints.


My research in observational astronomy uses data from ground and space-based observatories to probe black holes and relativistic jets created when massive stars end their lives. These explosive events, called gamma-ray bursts, release large amounts of energy and can be seen across vast distances, building a picture of the early Universe and its evolution.

I am also interested in the workings of active galaxies, powered by supermassive black holes of a million or more times the Sun's mass, and in understanding all the astrophysical sources which contribute to the high energy (X-ray and gamma-ray) transient sky.

I am a member of the Swift science team, Athena and THESEUS science working groups, the Cherenkov Telescope Array Consortium and the Gravitational wave Optical Transient Observatory collaboration, working with data from a variety of space- and ground-based astronomical facilities. In 2017 I was awarded a Royal Society Research Grant to support a project on transients using the local Oadby Telescope. In 2019 I was awarded an ASTRON Helena Kluyver Visiting Fellowship to work on fast follow-up of gamma-ray bursts with LOFAR.

Research supervision

Current students:

  • 2017-2021: R. Eyles: Transient studies using the Gravitational-wave Optical transient Observer (GOTO), STFC funded
  • 2019-2020: D. Li: Multiwavelength studies of transients from the XMM-Newton surveys, Chinese Academy of Sciences scholarship to work in Leicester for a year

Former students:

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Contact Details

Tel.: +44 (0)116 252 3506
Fax: +44 (0)116 252 2770

Department of Physics & Astronomy,
University of Leicester,
University Road,
Leicester, LE1 7RH,
United Kingdom.


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The University of Leicester is committed to equal access to our facilities. DisabledGo has a detailed accessibility guide for the Physics and Astronomy Building.