The University of Maryland will receive $16 million -- the largest grant for a single project in its history -- to set up a Systems Research Center as part of a new network of National Engineering Research Centers.

The grant is one of a series announced yesterday by the National Science Foundation totaling $94.5 million that will go to eight universities over five years. The money will establish facilities designed to train students and develop technologies to assist U.S. industry.

The Systems Research Center will work on designing complex automatic control and communication systems that could be used for such things as flight control mechanisms, robotics and electronic systems for computers, according to John Baras, a professor of electrical engineering at the College Park campus, who will head the center.

He said the university will set aside 10,000 square feet of space in a new building for the center, which should be in full operation in three years, he said, and will involve 30 faculty members from six departments.

Baras said the center also will work with the Supercomputing Research Center the Defense Department is building at the university's Maryland Science and Technology Center in Bowie.

University President John S. Toll called the center "a tremendous step forward for us." and said that even after the five year contract expires, there is the "good likelihood" that the university will continue to receive funding of $5 million annually for the facility.

Although the center will be located in College Park, the University will collaborate with Harvard University on the project, with Harvard making contributions in the areas of robotics and automation in manufacturing, Baras said. A computer communications link will be set up between the two universities, he said, and an exchange program will be established for faculty and students.

Erich Bloch, director of the National Science Foundation, said the "basic idea" behind the new program of National Engineering Research Centers "is to help university researchers develop long-term, fundamental knowledge on engineering problems of significance to industry and educate a new generation of students . . . . These centers and others to be established in the next few years will contribute directly to the research and talent base needed by the nation's industry to compete in world markets."