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Rita R. Colwell      

Renowned Microbiologist; Distinguished Professor at University of Maryland & Founder of CosmosID

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., a company that builds technology to analyze microbiomes, the tiny living organisms that exist all around us and impact our health and environment.

A renowned microbiologist, Dr. Colwell's interests are focused on global infectious diseases, water, and health. She 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.

Dr. Colwell was named to Forbes' "50 Over 50" list in 2023 and received The Explorers Club Medal in 2024. She has received 63 honorary degrees in her lifetime from institutions of higher education, including her alma mater, Purdue University. In 2006, she received the National Medal of Science from President George W. Bush; additionally, she is the recipient of both the Stockholm Water Prize and the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize. A geological site in Antarctica, called Colwell Massif, has been named in recognition of her work in the Polar Regions.

She served as the eleventh -- and first female -- director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). 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.

A nationally-respected scientist and educator, Dr. Colwell 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. She has authored or co-authored 19 books and more than 800 scientific publications. She produced the award-winning film, "Invisible Seas," and served on editorial boards of numerous scientific journals, including GeoHealth, which she founded at AGU.

Colwell 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.

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. Her book, "A Lab of One's Own," features the entrenched sexism in science, the elaborate detours women have take to bypass the problem, and how to fix the system.

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