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Cholera Research Pioneer & Entrepreneur To Receive IU Honorary Degree

Indiana University President Michael McRobbie will confer an honorary Doctor of Science degree to Rita Colwell during the commencement ceremony on the flagship Bloomington campus on May 4.

Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation and current distinguished university professor at University of Maryland College Park and Johns Hopkins University, is a nationally respected scientist and educator who has held many advisory positions in U.S government, nonprofit science policy organizations, and private foundations.

Recognized for her public health research on water-borne infectious diseases, Colwell has developed a global network that has highlighted the public health crisis of the emergence of new infectious diseases in both drinking and bath water.

Colwell discovered, during early research and study of cholera, that cholera can remain dormant in less favorable conditions and then “reawaken” again when conditions are more favorable.

Her research has led to innovative cholera tracking methods that include observing surface water temperatures, weather patterns, rainfall, and chlorophyll concentrations. Her research has shown that cholera infection rates are directly correlated with water temperatures and that algae blooms host cholera bacteria. This research has concluded that climate change has a profound impact on cholera spread.

In 2008, Colwell founded the bioinformatics company, CosmosID, which develops equipment to identify microbial activity in a variety of ecosystems.

As part of her visit, Colwell will meet with numerous faculty and students at Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington.

“The opportunity to host a guest such as Dr. Colwell is a true honor. Her seminal work in cholera research and control, as well as her entrepreneurship, has transformed our knowledge and been a tremendous boon in fighting one of the greatest continuing public health scourges worldwide,” noted David B. Allison, Dean, Distinguished Professor, and Provost Professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington. “I am especially pleased that our outstanding students will have the chance to meet such a pioneer in research and scientific leadership.”