Samantha Koire, researcher

PHOTO by lauran fayne worthy

When Samantha Koire was in seventh grade, her father suffered a stroke while in surgery for a brain tumor. The event spurred Koire to begin researching nuerophyisology. Fast forward: The recent Rio Americano High graduate just released a groundbreaking research project, “A New Mechanism for Protonic Communication: pH Signaling Via 2D Sound Waves,” and was the recipient of a $10,000 Davidson Fellows scholarship for her efforts. The researcher took a moment before heading out for Stanford University this week to chat about her research, her father and what comes next for her.

What’s the easiest way of explaining your research?

So basically, the [same] way we need to communicate with each other as people, cells need to communicate with each other, proteins within cells need to communicate with each other. And the ways they do this are by using protons, which are H-plus ions, and they affect the pH. By moving these ions, they affect the pH and the pH changes can affect the shape or structures of the insides of these cells' proteins. By changing that, we're able to affect a message. We're able to change receptor-set geometry that might enhance the effectiveness of therapeutic agents. So by changing it, we can change their function which we can use to our advantage.

And this means …

What that means is that if I had a message for you and you were all the way over there, I could walk to you, and that's the proton moving by diffusion. It's moving from point A to point B. What my research said was that the proton over here is going to call the proton over here on the telephone and say, “Hey, go change the pH over here.”

Your dad’s stroke inspired you to study neurophysiology. How long after that did you start researching?

Well, of course, I became interested right away, but I couldn't do lab research 'cause there's not a lab in my basement. … But I became really attuned to different programs and the opportunities that could be offered me through the summers. So after I got old enough to join the program, I did a summer program at UC Santa Cruz. It was more in chemistry and toxicology, but from there, I was able to go the next summer to Boston University where I was able to do this research that I'm being recognized for.

How did you respond to your father’s stroke?

I have two older sisters, and it's interesting to see how different the experience was for me as it was for them. They were at an age where they could fully comprehend what was going on and the severity of the situation. … They understood more what was going, and I just saw it as, “Dad's sick, he's going to get better. This is what we're going through.” I had a surprisingly positive outlook. I never got that point of, “Oh my gosh, Dad could die or this could go horribly wrong.”

Did it change you?

Oh, quite a bit. I think it's just my bond with my dad—and all my other family members, we're a close-knit family. But my dad and I have always had this really tight-knit bond. We'd go backpacking or we'd go on certain little trips together, so we've always been close. It wasn't like this is the defining thing that made us close, but because we already had that bond I kind of already knew ways that would help him, in a way. Or like, “Oh, we'll just lay on the ground and listen to music.” That's something that doesn't take a whole lot of his energy but something we both enjoy. He'll show me the songs he liked when he was my age. I'll play the new ones. 

What kind of music does your dad like?

Well he likes all kinds of music. That's kind of what draws us together. We used to listen to Pandora. What we like to do is put in a number of our favorite artists and then put it on quick mix so they all get jumbled together. Sometimes that's him showing me classics of Pink Floyd. Other times that's me putting in a new jazz song that I just recently heard. Other times that's like a pop song on the radio. I dunno, I'm more into the alternative music, and he's just kind of into everything.

The research you’ve done, is there anybody who wants to put it into the field?

Well, hopefully one day. It's kind of like I found flour, and some more ingredients need to be discovered and worked on and elevated to the level before we can bake the cookies. It can't be put into these treatments tomorrow. But I'm really hoping that this will be what tells us that we need to continue researching in this direction and that with enhanced models we'll be able to get this far. I was working with a lipid monolayer which is going to be the simplest biological membrane. We're going to need to amp that up. But this is what's telling us we can progress.

What’s something totally different than this that you’re curious about?

I've recently become really interested in rock climbing. I'm a boulderer now. I'm really into outdoorsy things. I would go backpacking with my dad. I haven't really been able to do those trips as much lately, but I'm hoping to make a friend base at Stanford of different rock climbers or adventurers that we can make a hiking trips and do those kinds of activities again.