Throughout her career, Dr Rita Colwell has been focused on global infectious diseases, health and water. She has tirelessly worked on an international level to address emerging infectious diseases and water issues, collaborating with Safe Water Network to develop safe drinking water for both the developed and developing world.
Born in Beverly, Massachusetts, Dr Colwell holds a B.S. in Bacteriology and an M.S. in Genetics, from Purdue University, and a Ph.D. in Oceanography from the University of Washington. Dr. Colwell has also served as the President of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and Professor of Microbiology and Biotechnology at the University Maryland, as well as being a member of the National National Science Board from 1984 to 1990.
Between 1998-2004, Dr. Colwell served as the 11th Director of the National Science Foundation, also serving as Co-chair of the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council. She also serves as Chair of the Research Board for the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (2010-2020).
Throughout her distinguished career, Dr. Colwell has been awarded 63 honorary degrees. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, bestowed by the Emperor of Japan, the 2006 National Medal of Science awarded by the President of the United States, the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize awarded by the King of Sweden, the 2017 Vannevar Bush Award from the National Science Foundation, the 2017 International Prize for Biology from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the 2017 Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (“Knight of the Legion of Honor”) bestowed by the Ambassador of France, and the 2018 Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize of Singapore. Dr. Colwell is an honorary member of the microbiological societies of the UK, Australia, France, India, Israel, Bangladesh, and the U.S. and has held several honorary professorships, including the University of Queensland, Australia. A geological site in Antarctica, Colwell Massif, has been named in recognition of her work in the Polar Regions.
As well as her work with CosmosID, Dr. Colwell has held many advisory positions in the U.S. Government, nonprofit science policy organizations, and private foundations. She is also an author, publishing 20 books and more than 800 scientific publications.
The award winning film Invisible Seas was also produced by Dr. Colwell.