Colwell Honored with Mahathir Science Award

Fri Aug 05, 2016

Rita Colwell, a Distinguished University Professor in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, was just named recipient of the 2015 Mahathir Science Award for her outstanding work involving tropical medicine.

The award, given annually by the Mahathir Science Award Foundation and the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, recognizes scientists and institutions worldwide that solve problems of the tropics through science and technology.

Award recipients receive a gold medal and a $100,000 honorarium.

In a letter informing Colwell of the award, officials noted her “… groundbreaking research and innovation, and decades of scientific leadership in defining our current understanding of the ecology of infectious diseases and the use of advanced technologies to halt their spread.”

Colwell is one of the world’s leading researchers of cholera—a waterborne disease estimated by the World Health Organization to strike three to five million people annually, many of them young children.

In 1960, Colwell became the first scientist to write a computer program that could identify bacteria. By the 1970s, her groundbreaking use of computational tools to study biology helped establish the field of Bioinformatics, a key area of scientific study today.

Colwell was one of the first scientists to recognize the impact of climate change on the waterborne microbial world. Since the 1980s, Colwell has pioneered the use of remote sensing for disease prediction, including using satellite imaging to track and predict outbreaks of cholera.

“We could not be more proud of this international recognition of Rita Colwell’s outstanding research to combat devastating tropical diseases that often strike the most vulnerable,” says Jayanth Banavar, dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. “Her research, scholarship and mentorship of other scientists and students continues to have a profound effect at our college, the university, and beyond.”

Colwell is scheduled to accept the Mahathir Science Award this October at a three-day event in Kuala Lumpur. She will give a public lecture and also lead an intellectual discussion with young scientists in attendance.

Other notable awards Colwell has received include the 2006 National Medal of Science; the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize; membership into 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; and the “The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star,” from the Emperor of Japan.