Walden Lake resident Frank Starmer has lived a life under the motto: Never stop learning. Now he has been honored with the Duke Medical Alumni Association's Distinguished Faculty Award.
For Frank Starmer life is about following one's curiosity. A life without learning is simply a life not worth living.
His inquiring nature and a steadfast work ethic set him upon a path filled with great accomplishments and moments of serene
meditation. After years of innovative creations, he has been honored with the Duke Medical Alumni Association's Distinguished Faculty Award.
His career with Duke has spanned more than half a century as an electrical engineer and computer specialist. Through his career he has worn many hats and has been a part of reshaping Duke’s medical advancements for years to come.
“Being an engineer that works in a clinical setting is the best job one could have,” Starmer said. “I knew every day that I was making a difference.”
He partnered with the Duke Cardiac Catheterization Lab to develop technology and approaches that would change the national conversation on ventricular fibrillation, created a system to capture data from patients undergoing coronary angiography, which led to the Duke Databank for Cardiovascular Disease, he helped start Duke’s Computer Science Department and developed the IT infrastructure for the nascent Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School.
He has been a professor and an associate dean for learning technologies. He collaborated with colleagues across the globe to create a network of accessible learning to further benefit students at Duke and has acted as a mentor for generations of students.
“When I go, all that’s left behind me are the students that I’ve touched,” Starmer said.
As he entered retirement he and his wife settled down in Walden Lake. He quickly learned the days drag on endlessly unless one can bring back a structured routine to give each day a purpose.
Finding a passion to throw himself into was simple, as he had picked up a skill set while working in Singapore that catered to
every aspect of his curious nature. Around 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day, Starmer finds himself off on an adventure.
Sometimes he wanders the local nature preserves. On other days, he is paddling down hidden creeks in his kayak. Regardless of the setting he always is on the hunt for the same thing: a pattern of behavior that captivates him.
In Singapore he joined a photography group, where he became fascinated with the behavior of local spiders. Lugging along his personal camera, he would spend hours watching them in their natural habitat and tried his hand at photography.
That passion continued to blossom and soon he had thousands of photos capturing the behavior of spiders when they mated, wove webs and captured prey.
When he retired in 2015, he and his wife chose to move to Plant City both because she had family in the area and due to the abundance of nature preserves in the county.
“Hillsborough County is so well-preserved, and has so many nature preserves that it seemed like a perfect fit for us to start the next phase of our lives,” Starmer said. “I am up to my ears in opportunities to do photography.”
His fixation on nature extends to non-arthropods as well. Last year he found himself following great blue herons as they nested and reproduced. Then he was searching for the perfect shot of white egrets and their fishing patterns. He patiently observed them for hours every day and soon learned how they train their chicks to fly, how they choose mates and how they compete for food. The watching and learning are just as exciting as viewing his final products on his camera.
“People make a big deal out of lifelong learning, but what is the point of living if you’re not constantly growing and evolving into a better and more informed version of yourself?” Starmer said. “Why remain stagnant? If you stop learning, you’re dead in the water. Learning is actually fun.”
His work is nothing less than extraordinary. He uploads photos and videos online and has gained a dedicated following of nature and photography enthusiasts.
His work has been featured everywhere, from mainstream outlets like The Discovery Channel to being selected as prize-winning art at the Florida Strawberry Festival.
He is constantly inventing and has created Bluetooth technology that allows a smartphone app to create a real-time feedback loop between patients and their care providers, which could potentially cut down on unnecessary check-ups.
His photography remains inventive as well. Currently, Starmer is examining what happens when water drops collide via
intricate photos. His camera is timed perfectly to a drip kit, which he can adjust to release different drops of water at different times so they collide right when his camera is activated.
He jokes that having to figure out all of the math to make these “experiments” work perfectly keeps his brain busy and his days full.
“My life has been full of options and I’ve always chosen the option that appeared to be the most fun. That’s what life is all about, enjoying it.”