Rita Colwell is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland at College Park and at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, senior advisor and chairman emeritus at Canon US Life Sciences, Inc., and president and chairman of CosmosID, Inc.
Dr. Rita Colwell's interests are focused on global infectious diseases, water, and health. Dr. Colwell 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, headquartered in New York City.
She served as the eleventh director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 1998 to 2004. In her capacity as NSF director, she served as co-chair of the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council. Before joining NSF, Dr. Colwell was president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and a professor of microbiology and biotechnology. She was also a member of the National Science Board from 1984 to 1990.
One of Colwell's major interests is K-12 science and mathematics education, graduate science and engineering education, and the increased participation of women and minorities in science and engineering.
She has held many advisory positions in the U.S. government, nonprofit science policy organizations, and private foundations, as well as in the international scientific research community. Colwell 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, including GeoHealth, which she founded at AGU in 2015.
Dr. Colwell has previously served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the American Academy of Microbiology and also as 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).
Dr. Colwell is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm, the Royal Society of Canada, the Royal Irish Academy, the Bangladesh Academy of Science, the Indian Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. Colwell is an honorary member of the microbiological societies of the UK, Australia, France, Israel, Bangladesh, Czechoslovakia, Royal Irish Academy and the U.S. She has held several honorary professorships, including the University of Queensland, Australia.
Colwell has been awarded 62 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education, including her alma mater, Purdue University.
A geological site in Antarctica, called Colwell Massif, has been named in recognition of her work in the Polar Regions.