Arizona State University will receive $1.85 million in graduate student fellowship grants from the Science Foundation Arizona this year, the foundation said Friday.

ASU topped the University of Arizona, which will receive $1.75 million, and Northern Arizona University, which will receive $400,000, under the new state-supported program, which is designed to spur science, engineering and biomedical research in Arizona.

“By awarding these fellowships, we may be supporting a future researcher who transforms the medical field with a novel discovery or the next tech company entrepreneur who employs thousands in high-quality jobs right here in our own backyard,” said William Harris, foundation president.

The universities were awarded the grants based on the recommendations of a fivemember panel of experts from outside Arizona that reviewed proposals from each university. The foundation’s technical staff and board of directors approved the recommendations.

Harris said the foundation’s graduate research fellows will be “the highest caliber grad researchers” at the universities. “They will provide our state with a competitive advantage over other state universities and will begin to create a level playing field with the best private universities,” he said.

A faculty selection committee at each university is engaged in a talent search to select the recipients of the fellowships, up to $50,000 per student.

The total number of fellowships awarded at each university will vary depending on the amount of the grant per researcher.

Andrew Webber, associate dean in the division of graduate studies at ASU, said he expects the award will support about 37 graduate students at ASU.

Most will be new doctoral students, he said.

He added “this focuses principally on bringing in new talent.”

He said specific areas of research will include advanced communications and information technology, biosciences and sustainable systems.

“It’s going to have a huge impact,” Webber said of the fellowship program.

“It will provide the school with the ability to attract the really top students.”

The fellowship program is one of five being implemented by the foundation to strengthen Arizona as a high-technology hub.

Also this year the foundation intends to award grants for specific research projects, help create companies that will commercialize new technologies developed at the universities, fund internships for K-12 science and math teachers and support K-12 students in science activities such as summer camps and competitions.

The foundation is supported by a $35 million “21st Century Fund” established last year by the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Janet Napolitano.

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