Dr. Rhaana Starling

Associate Professor

MSci Hons. Astrophysics (St. Andrews), PhD (MSSL/UCL), PGCAPHE (U. Leicester), 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 in 1999. 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 review panels, South African government reviews, and referee ground-based observing proposals and journal articles. I sit on a grant panel for the Royal Society and have been a member of the Royal Society Diversity Committee 2014-2016. I hold International Astronomical Union membership and Higher Education Academy fellowship. I was Equalities Champion finalist in 2016 and winner in 2017 at the University of Leicester Discovering Excellence Awards.

Science communication

In March 2016 the 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. Since moving to Leicester I have developed a workshop on the Life Cycle of a Star which I delivered at New Walk Museum, Belgrave Hall and Snibston Discovery Museum, and an exercise on gamma-ray burst chasing for the Headstart summer school and Senior Space School. I have spoken at the National Space Centre Women in Science Week,the London International Youth Science Forum and University of Leicester Christmas Lectures. I have appeared on panel shows, space series' 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:

Since 2014: Chair of the Departmental Equality and Diversity Committee

Since 2016/17: Head of Year 3 Teaching and member of Learning & Teaching Committee and Student-Staff Committee

2015/16: Undergraduate Admissions Tutor

2014-2017: member of College Gender Equality Working Group



I am a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and hold a Postgraduate Certificate of Academic Practice in Higher Education (awarded 2015). I am Head of Year 3 Teaching, and teach or have taught the following undergraduate elements:

  • STEM Foundation Year Science 1: Materials
  • First year Light & Matter, Unit 2
  • Second year laboratory team member
  • Third year Specialist Research Project
  • Third year Physics Challenge
  • Fourth year Research Project
  • Fourth year Advanced Study Project
  • Tutorials across all year groups



Selected publications

View a full publicaitons 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 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.


I am on the supervisory team for four PhD students:

  • 2017-2020: co-supervisor to PhD student R. Eyles: Transient studies using the Gravitational-wave Optical transient Observer (GOTO)
  • 2015-2018: Primary supervisor to PhD student A. Higgins: Observational studies of gamma-ray bursts and other transient populations
  • 2017-2018: Second supervisor to PhD student M. Garreffa: Variability of 3XMM-SDSS active galactic nuclei
  • 2014-2017: Second supervisor to PhD student J. McGuire: Observational studies of gamma-ray bursts and their hosts
  • Summary of past visiting PhD, SURE and work experience students and their projects

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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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