Rita Colwell Honored with the National Science Board Vannevar Bush Award

Dr. Rita Colwell

Dr. Rita Colwell

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) congratulates its Research Board Chair Dr. Rita Colwell on her selection as the 2017 Vannevar Bush Award recipient. This award honors exceptional lifelong leaders in science and technology who have made substantial contributions to the nation’s welfare through public service in science, technology, and policy. The National Science Board presented Colwell with the award on May 9 in Washington, D.C.

Colwell, whose work includes microbiology, ecology, infectious disease, public health, and computer and satellite technology, is recognized for her significant, life-saving contributions in global infectious diseases, water, and health.

“It is a great honor for me to be the recipient of the 2017 Vannevar Bush Award. It is extraordinarily humbling when one looks at the remarkable people who have received this award in the past,” Colwell said. “This is a challenging time for science and a difficult one for those scientists, engineers and technologists who are pursuing discovery and creativity driven research. Dr. Bush can be considered the father of the research enterprise of our country. It is especially gratifying to me to be honored for research and educational accomplishments as that would be the very spirit of Vannevar Bush and his hope for the future as he saw it. As a woman I am proud to be a scientist and contributing as part of the entire talent pool that allows the U.S. to continue to excel.”

Colwell was the first researcher in the U.S. to develop a computer program to analyze bacteriological data, and she discovered the presence of Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of cholera, in Chesapeake Bay. The 1990s cholera epidemic in Central and South America brought Colwell’s work onto the world stage, as she advised governments and groups and her extensive knowledge of the organism, public health, genetics, and ecology helped combat the disease and save lives. Colwell’s interdisciplinary work paved the way for researchers from ecological and epidemiological disciplines to collaborate, leading to a better understanding of disease transmission and control.

Dr. Colwell is a nationally-respected scientist and educator, having held positions as the Director of the National Science Foundation, National Science Board member, President of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, and Professor of Microbiology and Biotechnology at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a senior advisor and chairman emeritus at Canon U.S. Life Sciences, Inc., and the founder and chairman at CosmosID, Inc. She has authored or co-authored 17 books, more than 800 scientific publications, and has been awarded 61 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education.

Colwell is the recipient of other notable awards such as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Science and the Environment; the National Medal of Science; the Mahathir Science Award; the Stockholm Water Prize; the Mahathir Science Award; and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from the Emperor of Japan. Colwell is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Swedish Royal Academy of Science, Irish Royal Academy of Science, and the Bangladesh and Indian Academies of Science. A geological site in Antarctica, Colwell Massif, was named in recognition of her work in the Polar Regions.


The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit https://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

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