Samantha McBirney

About Me

I received my B.S. in Bioengineering with an emphasis on Medical Devices from the University of California, Berkeley in May 2012. As an undergraduate, my research focused on a wide range of topics, including the development of a highly-localized nanoplasmonic nucleic acid sensor, brain-machine interface, and traumatic brain injury as it occurs in football players. Currently, I am a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Southern California studying Biomedical Engineering where I am a member of Professor Andrea Armani's research group. My research interests include developing and implementing novel optical sensors to study blast-induced neurotrauma and designing a device utilizing magneto-optical technology for accurate, early-stage malaria diagnoses.

As for the big "why" question – why do I do what I do? In short, I'm an engineer in the hopes that, someday, I can make the world a better place. If one person can say my work made their life better, in some way, shape, or form, then that's reason enough for me to continue down this road.

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?"

Featured Projects

An Optical Platform to Study the Neuronal Mechanisms of Blast-Induced Neurotrauma

Since the onset of the War on Terror, blast-related TBI has been nicknamed the "signature injury" of this war – over 73% of all U.S. military casualties are caused by explosive weaponry. However, little is known about the mechanisms of neuronal injury resulting from exposure to explosions. We're developing a platform that will be used to study cells and cellular membranes undergoing exposure to microcavitations, allowing for a better understanding of neuronal injury resulting from exposure to explosions.

A Novel Device Utilizing Magneto-Optical Technology for Early-Stage Malaria Diagnosis

Malaria is a $12.5B problem that affects half of the world’s population and claims 1 million lives every year, including one child every minute. Yet when properly diagnosed and subsequently treated, malaria is a curable disease. Our solution is a diagnostic that exploits both the magnetic and optical properties of hemozoin, a byproduct generated by the parasite found in the blood. Our goal is to develop a diagnostic that is cheaper, easier to use, more accurate, and capable of early-stage diagnosis.

Wavelength-Normalized Spectroscopic Analysis of Bacterial Growth Rates

Optical density measurements are the standard approach for characterizing bacteria concentrations. However, these measurements are based on measuring the absorbance of a sample at a single wavelength – 600 nm. We have found that, by analyzing samples over the entire UV-Vis wavelength spectrum and implementing a wavelength-normalization step in the data analysis, we are able to more accurately and consistently quantify bacterial growth rates with high fidelity at low concentrations. Our findings were published and are detailed here.

Outside the Lab

My life is more than merely research.


I'm passionate about teaching children about STEM and the many doors an education will open for them, volunteering with organizations through USC and LA.


I'm a competitive runner for Cal Coast Track Club, racing primarily at the 5k and 10k distances and competing at the state level.


I teach spin classes at various locations throughout Los Angeles, which serves as a great way to cross-train for running.


Baking is a perfect blend of science and creativity. You can often find me baking for friends and family, or for larger events (including weddings).


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