Dr Sandra Starke BSc, MSc, PhD

Dr Sandra Starke

Department of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering
Research Fellow in Visual Analytics and Decision Making

Contact details

University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Sandra Starke is a Research Fellow in Visual Analytics and Decision Making. She is working on the EU-funded cross-institutional project SPEEDD, which targets event prediction from both a machine learning and human perspective. Sandra is part of a team with Chris Baber, Andrew Howes, Neil Cooke, Xiuli Chen and Natan Morar, which is looking at human behaviour to understand how people integrate information from multiple sources to make decisions and predictions. This is largely based on sequential visual information sampling, and the majority of her work involves eye tracking.

Sandra’s interests cover the reliability of visually-guided decision making, decision making under uncertainty and perceptual learning. Having a background in Biomechanics research she also remains active in this field. Sandra holds a BSc in Biomimetics, MSc in Biomechanics and PhD at the interface of human visual judgement, expertise and biomechanics.


  • PhD Visual perception and biomechanics of equine lameness 2009-2013, University of London, Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, UK.
  • MSc Biomechanics (distinction) 2008-2009, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  • BSc Bionics and Biomimetics (first class) 2004-2008, University of Applied Sciences, Bremen, Germany
  • Diploma in Professional Photography (2012) and Licentiateship of the Royal Photographic Society LRPS (2013)


Sandra comes from an interdisciplinary science background, first studying at the interface of engineering and life sciences (BSc in Biomimetics, MSc in Biomechanics) followed by work at the interface of human visual judgement, expertise and biomechanics (PhD). She gained her PhD in December 2013 with the thesis "From sensors to senses: biomechanics and visual perception of movement in sound and lame horses", focussing on the biomechanics of sound and pathological equine gait and visual perception and judgement when detecting movement asymmetry. After a short research assistant position, she became project leader on a 6-month e-learning project in which she developed a 3D animation-based intelligent lameness teaching computer application with Stephen May and Gregory Miles. The result can be found at lameness trainer.

Having become deeply fascinated with vision and cognitive psychology during her PhD, she then decided to continue working on visual perception and decision making, which brought her to the University of Birmingham. Sandra ultimately fell for cognitive psychology and its related disciplines because the questions one can ask are almost too big to comprehend and so powerful that they won’t let you go. Those things that one might wonder about during a quiet night and where reading 50 books only gets you started. Where a lifetime of work only gets you a few steps closer. Where the everyday is the lab. She hopes that one day someone in this field might bring everything together and change the course of humanity for the better, through understanding of our own actions and enabling society to act on it. She is incredibly proud to be part of this journey, on whichever scale.

While the move from biomechanics to psychology may sound surprising, there are actually lots of parallels between the two disciplines: both disciplines try to drill down to the very fundamentals of action. In biomechanics, looking for the principles that for example make a spider run and a tree self-heal and in psychology, those principles that for example make us deny the reality of climate change or feel that we know enough to make a decision. Both disciplines develop models. Both disciplines need to understand the fundamental physiological underpinnings and constraints of the bodily ‘machine’. Both disciplines have a strong sense of adaptation, learning, evolutionary effects and variation. So – it all makes sense!

Postgraduate supervision

  • MSc co-supervision planned for the 2015/16 academic year on the cn-cr course.


Sandra is interested in how people turn the huge amount of visual information around them into some form of impression, belief or judgement, and in the reasons why and how this sometimes goes wrong. As part of the European Project SPEEDD, she is working on visual information sampling and information integration for two applied use cases: road traffic management and credit card fraud. At present this involves eye tracking and the development of efficient analysis protocols in Matlab including novel analysis approaches and metrics, development of interactive applications that integrate with eye tracking hardware, design of lab experiments and data collection ‘in the field’. This unites with her group’s work on Ergonomics, Decision Modeling, UI design and event recognition. For a list of publications coming out of this work, please check the ‘Publications’ section (currently several conference contributions accepted/presented and a paper under review).

At the side, Sandra is interested in perceptual learning, with experiments in the domain of movement feature recognition. At present this includes the investigation of different delivery methods on detection performance based on her animation-based learning tool ‘LamenessTrainer’. Remaining very interested in biomechanics, she is also currently working on motor control and biomechanics of tool use with Chris Baber and biomechanics of equine locomotion with Hilary Clayton. The outcomes of this work can also be found in the ‘Publications’ section.

During her PhD, Sandra worked on early recognition of ‘lameness’ in horses, a health complaint which manifests in a limping movement. Being able to decide on the content and direction of her PhD, she made the case for performing eye tracking studies, including a successful grant application to cover equipment costs. She hence combined biomechanics research to quantify movement adaptations of horses in various conditions as well as eye tracking research and perceptual studies to quantify what humans do to spot lameness, and what limitations the human eye meets. Her work in biomechanics included the development of Matlab routines for automatic processing and display of movement sensor data, which she then applied to clinical scenarios such as horse’s movement after flexion tests, on the circle or following diagnostic analgesia. Her work on perception covered visual scan patterns and decisions of students and experts when examining horses for lameness, detection thresholds for perceiving movement asymmetry in novices and experts, bias introduced by prior knowledge to the decision process of experts and novices and intuitive feature selection during movement assessment in novices.

Other activities

  • Maintenance and development of interactive animation-based lameness learning game: www.lamenesstrainer.com
  • Associate member of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF),
  • Member of the Applied Vision Association (AVA), Society of Experimental Biology (SEB), British Society of Animal Science (BSAS) and Association for Veterinary Teaching and Research Work (AVTRW).
  • Member of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) and Smethwick Photographic Society (SPS)


Peer-reviewed journal articles

  • Starke S. D. and Clayton, H. M. (2015): A universal approach to determine footfall timings from kinematics of a single foot marker in hoofed animals. PeerJ; Open Access
  • Pfau, T., Starke, S. D., Troester, S., Roepstorff, L. (2013): Estimation of vertical tuber coxae movement in the horse from a single inertial measurement unit. The Veterinary Journal 198, 498-503.
  • Starke, S. D., Raistrick, K. J., May, S. A. and Pfau, T. (2013): The effect of trotting speed on the evaluation of subtle lameness in horses. The Veterinary Journal 197, 245-252.
  • Starke, S. D., Witte, T. H., May, S. A. and Pfau, T. (2012): Accuracy and precision of hind limb foot contact timings of horses determined using a pelvis-mounted inertial measurement unit. Journal of Biomechanics 45, 1522-1528.
  • Starke, S. D., Willems, E., Head, M., May, S. A. and Pfau, T. (2012): Proximal hind limb flexion in the horse: effect on movement symmetry and implications for defining soundness. Equine Veterinary Journal 44, 657-663.
  • Starke, S. D., Willems, E., May, S. A. and Pfau, T. (2012): Vertical head and trunk movement adaptations of sound horses trotting in a circle on a hard surface. The Veterinary Journal 193, 73-80.
  • King, A. J., Cheng, L., Starke, S. D. and Myatt, J. P. (2012): Is the true ‘wisdom of the crowd’ to copy successful individuals? Biology Letters 8, 197-200.
  • Pfau, T., Spence, A., Starke, S., Ferrari, M. and Wilson, A. (2009): Modern riding style improves horse racing times. Science 325: 289.
  • Starke, S. D., Robilliard, J. J., Weller, R., Wilson, A. M. and Pfau, T. (2009): Walk-run classification of symmetrical gaits in the horse: a multidimensional approach. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 6: 335-42.

Conference papers, talks and posters

Coming up

  • Baber, C. and Starke, S.D. (2015): Levels of synergies in simple, repetitive tool use. Accepted as a poster for the International Society of Biomechanics (ISB) Conference, July 2015, Glasgow, UK.
  • Starke, S. D., Morar, N. S., Baber C., Cooke, N. J., Chen, X. and Howes, A., (2015): Scan pattern similarity in repetitive user interface examination. European Conference on Eye Movements , August 2015, Vienna, Austria.
  • Morar, N.S., Starke, S.D. and Baber, C. (2015): Missing key information: how automation failure can be misinterpreted. Human Factors and Ergonomics Conference, October 2015, Los Angeles, USA.
  • Baber, C. and Starke, S.D. (2015): Using 1/f scaling to study variability and dexterity in simple tool using tasks. Human Factors and Ergonomics Conference, October 2015, Los Angeles, USA.


  • Starke, S. D., Cooke, N. J., Howes, A., Morar, N. S. and Baber C. (2015): Visual sampling in a road traffic management control room task. Ergonomics and Human Factors (EHF) Conference 2015, Daventry, UK. Conference paper and talk.
  • Winner of the CIEHF best paper award!
  • Starke, S. D., Miles, G.C., Channon, S.B. and May, S. A. (2014): Instant expert: development and evaluation of an intelligent, interactive 3D computer game for teaching visual lameness assessment skills through deliberate practice. BSAS/AVTRW conference 2015, Chester, UK. Talk.
  • Winner of the BSAS President’s Prize!
  • Starke, S. D., Pfau, T. and May, S. A. (2014): Asymmetry detection thresholds in novices assessing dynamic stimuli. AVA Annual Meeting, 11 April 2014, York, UK. Poster.
  • Starke, S.D., Merritt, J.S., Stubbs, N., Pfau T., Clayton, H.M. (2014): Is foot placement related to body movement symmetry during circular locomotion? ICEEP, 16-20 June 2014, Chester, UK. Talk.
  • Starke, S.D., May, S.A., Pfau, T. (2014): Towards reliable objective lameness quantification on the circle. ICEEP, 16-20 June 2014, Chester, UK. Talk.
  • Clayton, H.M., Starke, S.D., Merritt, J.S. (2014): Individual limb contributions to centripetal force generation during circular trot. ICEEP, 16-20 June 2014, Chester, UK. Talk.
  • Merritt, J.S., Starke, S.D., Clayton, H.M. (2014): The point of application of the ground reaction force moves in circling horses. ICEEP, 16-20 June 2014, Chester, UK. Poster.
  • Starke, S.D. (2013): Proximal Hind Limb Flexion and Detection of Subtle Lameness. NAVP conference, 26 October 2013, UK. Invited talk.
  • Starke, S. D., Pfau, T. and May, S. A. (2013): Viewing patterns of expert veterinarians during the equine lameness examination. BEVA conference, Manchester, UK; 13 September 2013. Abstract and talk.
  • Starke, S. D., Pfau, T. and May, S. A. (2013): Expert visual diagnostics: systematic convergence or random approach? European conference on Visual Perception, Bremen, Germany; 25-29 August 2013. Abstract and poster.
  • Starke, S. D., Kaiser, L. J., Stubbs, N. C., Pfau, T. and Clayton, H. M. (2013): Be careful where you tread: foot placement of horses during locomotion in a circle. SEB conference, Valencia, Spain; 6 July 2013. Abstract and talk.
  • Starke, S. D. (2013): A fresh look at equine lameness detection through the eyes of motion sensors and expert clinicians. Horse & Rider Biomechanics Conference - Equine Soundness and Performance;           Craven College, Skipton, UK; 24 June 2013. Invited talk.
  • Starke, S. D., Pfau, T. and May, S. A. (2013): Learning from experts: towards a unified teaching approach for equine lameness examinations. BSAS / AVRTW conference, Nottingham, UK. Abstract and talk.           
  • à Winner of the AVTRW's president's prize!
  • Starke, S. D., McDonald, J., May, S. and Pfau, T. (2012): Effect of inaccurate equipment placement on displacement trajectories and asymmetry features in horses at walk and trot. 7th International Conference on Canine and Equine Locomotion (ICEL 7), Stroemsholm, Sweden. Abstract, poster and short talk.
  • Starke, S. D., Pfau, T., May, S. and Witte, T. (2012): The effect of induced and alleviated equine lameness on upper body movement and consequences of sampling different stride numbers. 7th International Conference on Canine and Equine Locomotion (ICEL 7), Stroemsholm, Sweden. Abstract and talk
  • Starke, S. D., May, S. and Pfau, T. (2012): Expert viewing patterns during visual lameness assessment of horses. AVA Spring meeting, Cambridge, UK. Abstract and poster.
  • Starke, S. D., Willems, E., May, S., Pfau, T. (2011): The effect of proximal hind limb flexion on vertical movement symmetry in sound horses. BEVA congress, UK. Abstract and talk.
  • Starke, S. D., Willems, E., May, S., Pfau, T. (2011): Factors to consider when interpreting gait data from trotting in a circle. Alltech-Hartpury Equine Performance Conference, UK. Abstract and talk.