Congratulations to Dr. Rita Colwell, distinguished microbiologist and a member of the Board of Governors at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), for receiving the 2017 Vannevar Bush Award. This annual award is given to lifelong leaders in science and technology dedicated to applying their expertise to give back to the United States through public service. Dr. Colwell is being honored for her vital work in health, water, and global infectious diseases.
In the 1960s Dr. Colwell played a key role in the emergence of bioinformatics as an important tool for biological research, having been the first researcher in the nation to develop a program to analyze bacteriological data. In the 1970s she turned the current understanding of cholera on its head by proving bacteria known to cause cholera to be naturally present in the environment, rather than introduced via sewage dumping only. During the cholera outbreak in Central and South America in the 1990s, Dr. Colwell used her deep knowledge to assist various government entities in combating the disease and saving many lives.
These achievements, among others, make Dr. Colwell an exceptional interdisciplinary pioneer. Her work bridges numerous fields in science and technology, such as public health, infectious disease, microbiology, ecology, as well as computer and satellite technology.
In addition to being an OIST Board member, Dr. Colwell became the first woman to serve as the Director of the United States National Science Foundation from 1998 to 2004, and is a Distinguished Professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and at the University of Maryland College Park. She has received many awards and recognitions throughout her career, including the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, given by the Emperor of Japan, and 61 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education.
“The Vannevar Bush Award is deeply appreciated since Vannevar Bush was the guiding light behind federal government support of fundamental research in the United States,” Dr. Colwell writes in an email to OIST. “He was a visionary who laid the groundwork for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, as well as research support by other agencies. Fundamental research, often termed creativity driven research, provides the basis of much of the technological advances of modern society. Thus, it is a great honor for me to be selected for this award.”