Photo of Rita R. Colwell

Rita R. Colwell

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For her in-depth research that has contributed to a greater understanding of the ecology, physiology, and evolution of marine microbes, most notably Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of pandemic cholera, and which has elucidated critical links between environmental and human health.

Rita R. Colwell is an expert in the field of marine biology — and a trailblazer as the first woman to serve as the head of the National Science Foundation. Her research includes marine biotechnology, studying marine bacteria molecular genetics and the microbiology of the Chesapeake Bay, an ecosystem she’s research for four decades.

She has studied the connection between global infectious diseases, access to water and health, and has launched an international network to combat the spread of disease through unsafe drinking water. Along with her research, Colwell works as a professor at both the University of Maryland at College Park and at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, among other titles.

Colwell is also an advocate for science and mathematics education in grade school, along with graduate science and engineering education. She is focused on increasing the number of women and minorities working the the fields of science and engineering.

She has authored or co-authored more than 750 scientific reports and publications along with 17 books, and produced the 1977 award-winning film “Invisible Seas.”

By Christine Ayala