A $16 million grant to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation will pay for another link in a high-technology chain of new research centers planned for Prince George's County in the next few years, state and local officials said yesterday.

The money, announced Wednesday, will fund a new Systems Research Center on the College Park campus.

The center will join the Defense Department's new Supercomputing Center in Bowie and the university's planned Institute of Advanced Computer Studies as selling points when state and county officials take their economic development pitch to white-collar firms seeking to relocate.

"It is a collaborative project in which we will be working with industry," said university President John S. Toll.

"We do have very strong programs in science and engineering as well as in other areas. This will enhance that."

And when the university benefits, County Executive Parris Glendening said, the county does too.

"It is clear that the University of Maryland is a major asset to the county, and it is one of our main attractions as far as businesses locating here," Glendening said.

Thomas Maddux, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Community and Economic Development, said that the presence of the new center could aid the state in persuading General Motors to expand in the state.

"At first glance, I would say it will be another opportunity to remind the GM people that the Saturn plant does belong in Maryland," said Maddux.

Maryland officials made their pitch for the new-car Saturn project, which could bring 6,000 new jobs to the state, on March 15 in Detroit.

At least 36 states have made requests for the plant.

Glendening said that the town-gown link is a strong one when officials are engaged in selling the county to prospective firms, especially white-collar ones.

"I don't want to give the impression that we're putting everything in the high-tech basket," he said. "But this will continue to attract that computer-based type of firm."

John Baras, the electrical engineering professor who will head the Systems Research Center, said that such interaction is essential to the success of the academic component. When the university applied to the science foundation for the grant, representatives from Xerox and Westinghouse spoke on its behalf, he said.

And to some businesses, the academic component is critical, said Hans F. Mayer, who is Maddux's deputy secretary.

Twelve faculty members will staff the new center, which will eventually be housed in a new, 40,000-square-foot building to be constructed near the campus' main gate off Rte. 1.

Maryland was selected as one of eight institutions that will receive National Science Foundation grants from 142 applications filed by 106 schools.

Carl Hall, the science foundation's deputy assistant director for engineering, said that the university was selected because its proposal was cross-disciplinary, supported by industry and anchored in an applied science program that is already highly regarded.

"It's a nice chip to play," said Assistant Secretary Mayer.