Rita Colwell, Ph.D., is focused on global infectious diseases, water, and health and she developed an international network to address emerging infectious diseases and water issues, including safe drinking water for both the developed and developing world, in collaboration with Safe Water Network. One of her major interests includes K-12 science and mathematics education, graduate science and engineering education, and increased participation of women and minorities in science and engineering.
Colwell served as the 11th director of the National Science Foundation. Colwell has been awarded 63 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education, and is 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, the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize, 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, and the 2018 Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize of Singapore.
Colwell has held many advisory positions in the U.S. government, nonprofit science policy organizations, as well as in the international scientific research community. She is a nationally-respected scientist and educator, and has authored or co-authored 19 books and more than 800 scientific publications. She produced the award-winning film, "Invisible Seas," and has served on editorial boards of numerous scientific journals.
Colwell has served as chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology and also president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Washington Academy of Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, the Sigma Xi National Science Honorary Society, the International Union of Microbiological Societies, and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). Colwell is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Irish Academy, the Bangladesh Academy of Science, the Indian Academy of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.
Born in Beverly, Massachusetts, Colwell holds a bachelor's in bacteriology and master's in genetics from Purdue University, and a doctorate in oceanography from the University of Washington.