Rita R. Colwell
Rita Rossi Colwell (born November 23, 1934) is an American environmental microbiologist and scientific administrator. Colwell holds degrees in bacteriology, genetics, and oceanography and studies infectious diseases. Colwell is the founder and Chair of CosmosID, a bioinformatics company. From 1998 to 2004, she was the 11th Director of the National Science Foundation.
Rita R. Colwell
Rita R. Colwell in 2011.
|11th Director of the National Science Foundation|
George W. Bush
|Preceded by||Neal Francis Lane|
|Succeeded by||Arden L. Bement Jr.|
|Born||November 23, 1934|
Beverly, Massachusetts, United States
|Alma mater||Purdue University|
University of Washington
|Institutions||National Science Foundation|
University of Maryland College Park
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
|Thesis||Commensal bacteria of marine animals; a study of their distribution, physiology and taxonomy (1961)|
|Doctoral advisor||John Liston|
|Doctoral students||Jody Deming|
Early life and education
Rita Colwell was born on November 23, 1934, in Beverly, Massachusetts. Her parents, Louis and Louise Rossi, had eight children, Rita being the seventh child born into the Rossi household. Neither her mother nor her father were from scientific backgrounds. In 1956, Rita obtained a B.S. in bacteriology from Purdue University. She also received her M.S. in genetics from Purdue. Colwell's Ph.D. is from the University of Washington in the field of aquatic microbiology under the direction of microbiologist John Liston. She participated in a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Research Council (Canada) in Ottawa.
Colwell is recognized for her study of global infectious diseases through water sources and its impacts on global health. Through this research, she has developed an international network that has brought attention to the emergence of new infectious diseases in drinking/bathing water, pertaining mostly to its role on the developing world.
Many of her research papers have been published focusing on abating the spread of cholera in the developing world by developing ways to track its spread and researching inexpensive methods for filtrating out the infections agents of cholera in water systems. Some of these tracking methods include observing weather patterns, surface water temperatures, chlorophyll concentrations, and rainfall patterns. Colwell's findings of correlations between these phenomena showed that the infection rate of cholera is connected to water temperatures. This rising temperature causes algae blooms that host cholera bacteria, and rainfall and extreme weather patterns aid in spreading infectious hosts of cholera among water systems. Colwell also concluded that climate change will have a profound impact on the spread of cholera.
Colwell has proposed ways people in the developing world can use inexpensive methods to filter water when water treatment facilities are not available. In one study spanning about 3 years, 65 villages in rural Bangladesh comprising 133,000 individuals, participated in an experiment in which they used folded sari cloth or nylon mesh filters placed over water pots to acquire safe drinking water from their local water ways. These inexpensive and readily available materials yielded a 48% reduction in cholera, when compared with the control: absence of any type of filter.
National Science Foundation
Colwell was the first female director of the foundation and held this position from 1998–2004. In a presentation to members of the foundation in 2002, she detailed what the foundation should address in the future. She explained that an educated society is critical not just for developing technology, but for supporting that development, both by the public and by government.
Colwell is interested in K-12 science and mathematical education, and she is a proponent of increasing the number of women and minorities in science and engineering. Rita Colwell was responsible for doubling the funding to the NSF initiative ADVANCE, which supports the advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers. Colwell also pushed to invest $60 million as part of a new priority area in mathematical and statistical sciences.
In 2004, Colwell completed her term as director of the National Science Foundation. She followed that position by becoming the chief scientist at Canon U.S. Life Sciences, a division of Canon. She served as chairman of Canon U.S. Life Sciences until 2006, when she was named as Senior Advisor and Chairman Emeritus.
Colwell joined the faculty of the Department of Biology at Georgetown University in 1964, and she gained tenure there in 1966. While at Georgetown, Colwell and her research team were the first to learn that the causative agent of cholera was found naturally in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. In 1972, Colwell accepted a tenured professorship at the University of Maryland. She remains a professor at the University of Maryland at College Park and at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. At the University of Maryland at College Park, she is a Distinguished University Professor in the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), which is part of the University's College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.
Colwell founded the company CosmosID in 2008, and she currently serves as Global Science Officer and Chairman of the Board. CosmosID is a bioinformatics company dedicated to making the world a healthier and safer place by developing various types of equipment to identify microbial activity in a variety of ecosystems. In doing so, CosmosID ensures prompt, accurate responses, appropriate medical therapies, and corrective actions to prevent public health risks.
Publications and media
In 1977, Colwell produced the award-winning film, Invisible Seas. In this 26 minute film, the microbiology department at the University of Maryland, College Park demonstrates what types of methodology are required of marine microbiologists when studying microorganisms in the ocean. They emphasize the importance of marine microbiologists studying microorganisms in the ocean in order to determine the impact pollution has had on our oceans.
Colwell is the founding editor of GeoHealth, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Colwell recognized the increase in published Geohealth research due to the advancement in our understanding of how Earth and space science provides deeper insight into health and disease in both people and ecosystems. GeoHealth expects to start accepting publications in the fall of 2016.
Awards and recognition
- Activities in the International Union of Microbiological Societies from 1962 to 1986
- Member of the National Science Board (1984–1990)
- President of the American Society for Microbiology (1984–85)
- President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1996)
- Eleventh Director of the United States National Science Foundation, and the first woman to hold this position (1998–2004).
- National Medal of Science of the United States (2006)
- In 2006, Colwell received the National Medal of Science from former United States President George W. Bush.
- The 2008 Leonard Brockington Visitor to Queen's University
- President of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in 2008
- Stockholm Water Prize (2010)
- Chair of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine (2016)
- Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water; Creativity Award 2016
- The Mahathir Science Award (2016)
- Member of the Academies of Science of Sweden, Canada, Bangladesh, India, and the United States
- The American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- The American Philosophical Society
- Royal Society of Canada
- 1991, Maryland Women's Hall of Fame
- Awarded the Order of the Rising Sun-Gold and Silver Star-by the Emperor of Japan (2005)
- 2005, Induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame
- Awarded the Vannevar Bush Award in 2017
- Awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize in 2018
- Foremother Award from The National Center for Health Research in 2018
Colwell met her husband, Jack Colwell, when he was a physical chemistry graduate student at Purdue. Rita and Jack have raised two daughters, both of whom followed their parents' footsteps into their own scientific careers.
- "Rita Rossi Colwell, MSA SC 3520-11592". msa.maryland.gov. Retrieved 2016-09-23.
- Colwell, Rita Barbara Rossi (1961). Commensal bacteria of marine animals; a study of their distribution, physiology and taxonomy (Ph.D.). University of Washington. OCLC 20018876 – via ProQuest.
- Marmor, Jon (June 2000). "Wonder Women: Bumping Against the Glass Ceiling". Columns Magazine. University of Washington.
- "RitaColwell – Cell Biology & Molecular Genetics". cbmg.umd.edu. Retrieved 2016-09-13.
- Magny, Guillaume Constantin de; Murtugudde, Raghu; Sapiano, Mathew R. P.; Nizam, Azhar; Brown, Christopher W.; Busalacchi, Antonio J.; Yunus, Mohammad; Nair, G. Balakrish; Gil, Ana I. (2008-11-18). "Environmental signatures associated with cholera epidemics". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105 (46): 17676–17681. doi:10.1073/pnas.0809654105. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 2584748. PMID 19001267.
- Colwell, Rita R.; Huq, Anwar; Islam, M. Sirajul; Aziz, K. M. A.; Yunus, M.; Khan, N. Huda; Mahmud, A.; Sack, R. Bradley; Nair, G. B. (2003-02-04). "Reduction of cholera in Bangladeshi villages by simple filtration". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 100 (3): 1051–1055. Bibcode:2003PNAS..100.1051C. doi:10.1073/pnas.0237386100. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 298724. PMID 12529505.
- "US NSF – News – Rita R. Colwell, Biography". www.nsf.gov. Retrieved 2016-10-20.
- "Rita Colwell | UMIACS". www.umiacs.umd.edu. Retrieved 2016-09-13.
- "Director Rita R. Colwell's Remarks to The Engineering Deans Council Public Policy Colloquium, National Academy of Engineering, February 12, 2002". www.nsf.gov. Retrieved 2016-10-26.
- Corey, Pamela (2014-01-24). "Biography of Rita R. Colwell". Retrieved 2016-09-13.
- "CosmosID Founder Rita Colwell". CosmosID - Exploring the Universe of Microbes. Retrieved 2016-10-20.
- Ayala, Christine (2016). "Rita R. Colwell". National Science and Technology Medals Foundation. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
- University of Maryland, College Park; Department of Microbiology; University of Maryland, College Park; Office of University Relations (1977-01-01), Invisible seas, The Office, OCLC 19548735
- "AGU Expands into Geohealth, Starting with New Journal". From The Prow. 2016-08-11. Retrieved 2016-10-21.
- "The New School Commencement to be Held on May 21". 2010-05-17.
- "Rita Colwell Papers". www.asm.org. Retrieved 2016-10-20.
- "The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details". NSF – National Science Foundation. Retrieved 2016-10-21.
- "Rita Colwell, AIBS Past President, Receives Mahathir Science Award". AIBS Public Policy Office. Retrieved 2016-10-26.
- "Creativity Prize 7th Award". Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
- "International Prize for biology – Japan Society for the Promotion of Science". www.jsps.go.jp. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
- National Women's Hall of Fame, Rita Rossi Colwell
- "Rita Colwell, world-renowned microbiologist and science leader, to receive the Vannevar Bush Award". National Science Board. Retrieved 16 May 2017.
- hermes (2018-07-10). "Seoul, US scientist receive honours". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2019-02-05.
- "Singapore International Water Week – Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize". Singapore International Water Week. 2019-02-05.
- "RitaColwell – Cell Biology & Molecular Genetics". University of Maryland: College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
- "Rita Colwell, Ph.D.: National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE)". National Council for Science and the Environment. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
- "US NSF – News – Rita R. Colwell, Biography". National Science Foundation. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
|Professional and academic associations|
Francisco J. Ayala
| President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
| Director of the National Science Foundation
Arden L. Bement Jr.