Rita Colwell Awarded Prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize

Thu Mar 22, 2018

Rita Colwell, a Distinguished University Professor in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), has been awarded the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize.

The award, now in its 10th year, honors outstanding contributions by individuals or organizations that work toward solving global water challenges with innovative technologies, policies or programs. It is named for Singapore's first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, whose foresight and leadership enabled Singapore to attain a sustainable water supply.

Colwell was recognized for her pioneering insights into microbial water quality surveillance and life-saving work in fighting waterborne diseases.

The impact of Colwell's research and scholarship has been especially felt in cholera-endemic countries—the result of a key discovery she made in the 1970s involving cholera-causing bacteria, known as Vibrio cholera. Previously thought to be incapable of surviving more than a few hours outside a human host, she discovered that the bacteria occur naturally in the aquatic environment associated with plankton.

This highlighted the critical link between the environment and cholera and led to Colwell's subsequent application of satellite imagery and modelling to predict cholera outbreaks, as well as her innovative use of sari cloths as filters to greatly reduce contamination in drinking water.

Colwell will travel to Singapore in July to receive the award-which includes $300,000 and a gold medallion-as part of a series of events tied to Singapore International Water Week.

Go here to see an overview of the work that Colwell is doing in the fight against cholera.