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Rita Colwell

Distinguished University Professor
College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences
Primary Expertise: 
Natural Sciences
Life Sciences
Climate Change
Public Health
STEM Education

Scientist, educator and innovator Rita Colwell is world-renowned for her outstanding contributions to microbiology, bioinformatics, the understanding and prevention of cholera and the advancement of STEM research and education. Her award-winning work bridges many areas, including microbiology, ecology, infectious disease, public health, computer and satellite technology and international diplomacy. She and her work have been featured in dozens of news outlets, including CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times.

A U.S. National Medal of Science winner and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Colwell's pioneering research in computational biology and DNA sequencing lay the foundation for the ongoing bioinformatics revolution. Her work on Vibrio bacteria has transformed our understanding of these bacteria and the deadly water-borne diseases they can cause. While director of the National Science Foundation from 1998 - 2004, she successfully promoted transformative, cross-disciplinary research and education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  

Today as founder and chairman of CosmosID, Inc., she continues to lead advances in molecular diagnostics of human pathogens and antimicrobial resistance. She also continues to promote international efforts to address existing and emerging infectious diseases for both the developed and developing world and to understand the impact of climate change on water-borne diseases. She has authored or co-authored 19 books and more than 800 scientific publications. She produced the award-winning film, Invisible Seas, and has held many influential appointed and advisory positions in U.S. Government, nonprofit science policy organizations and private foundations, including: U.S. Science Envoy, director of the National Science Foundation, and research board chair for The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.
Among the many top awards received by Colwell are the 2017 International Prize for Biology, generally recognized as one of the most prestigious honors for a biologist; the 2017 Vannevar Bush Award given by the U.S. National Science Board; and the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize awarded by the King of Sweden.

Ph.D. Oceanography, University of Washington
M.S. Genetics, Purdue University
B.S. Bacteriology, Purdue University