Rita Colwell to Receive the NCSE Lifetime Achievement Award

Dr. Rita Colwell

Dr. Rita Colwell

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative congratulates Dr. Rita Colwell as the 2016 National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

The NCSE, which links environmental scientific knowledge and policy decision-making, confers this award to recognize outstanding scientists for their major contributions that advance science for the public good.

Dr. Colwell, a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland at College Park and at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, serves as the Chair of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) Research Board. She is a Senior Advisor and Chairman Emeritus at Canon US Life Sciences, Inc., and President and CEO of CosmosID, Inc.

Reflecting on this award, Dr. Colwell said, “I am deeply honored to receive this very special award. Since its founding in 1990, NCSE has made major advances in accomplishing its very important mission, namely “to improve the scientific basis for environmental decision making.” I am proud to be part of the NCSE team.”

Dr. Margaret Leinen, Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and GoMRI Research Board Vice Chair, congratulated her colleague, noting that this award aptly highlights Dr. Colwell’s long time service in the science community: “Rita Colwell has woven multiple distinguished careers into one amazing life, being a major contributor to marine and environmental science with over 5 decades of research on oceans and their impact on human health.”

Dr. Colwell’s work has had particular impact in several areas, as Dr. Leinen remarked: “Her research on marine microbiology during the 1980s and 1990s led the way to an explosive growth in the field during the 2000s. She was an early pioneer in understanding oil spill effects on the ocean and their implications for human health. Rita innovated in the fields of biotechnology and biomedicine as a researcher and as a private entrepreneur.”

Complementing Dr. Colwell’s prolific research career has been her role as an innovative and creative leader and administrator at the university, state, and national levels. “Her leadership at the National Science Foundation substantially enhanced opportunities for interdisciplinary research across the nation and emphasized the importance of a diverse scientific community on creativity,” said Dr. Leinen. “We have had few science leaders who combined such long-lived and important scientific research careers with administrative careers that have transformed science across the nation.”

Dr. Colwell will receive this award at the 16th National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment in Washington, DC. The conference brings together leaders in science, technology, government, business, civil society, and education to create strategies and initiatives that transform ideas into action. Dr. Colwell’s interests are focused on global infectious diseases, water, and health, and she is currently developing an international network to address emerging infectious diseases and water issues, including safe drinking water for both the developed and developing world.

Dr. Colwell is a nationally-respected scientist and educator, holding positions as the Director of the National Science Foundation, National Science Board member, President of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, and Professor Microbiology and Biotechnology at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has authored or co-authored 17 books, more than 750 scientific publications, and has been awarded 55 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education.

Colwell currently is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. Several other prestigious honors have recognized Colwell including the 2011 Stockholm Water Prize, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star bestowed by the Emperor of Japan, and the 2006 National Medal of Science awarded by the President of the United States.

The GoMRI community joins in the accolades of Dr. Colwell’s exceptional contributions to science and her continued direction as Chair of the GoMRI Research Board.


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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