The University of Central Florida pumped more than $1 billion into the local economy in the past 11 years thanks to cutting-edge researchers in engineering, education, medicine and many other fields.

UCF researchers were awarded a record $133.3 million in external research funding in 2009-10.

The impact of those research dollars fuels and diversifies Central Florida’s innovation economy. Many researchers take their projects from the lab to the marketplace, creating new jobs and sometimes enticing companies to move to or expand in Central Florida.

Findings from UCF research have improved medical treatments and the way children learn in the classroom. They also help to preserve the environment and protect communities from hurricanes.

“UCF is a proven economic engine for our community,” said M.J. Soileau, vice president for Research and Commercialization. “The hard work and dedication of our world-class researchers creates high-tech, high wage jobs and improves our quality of life.”

Research highlights in 2009-10 include:

—  UCF received $75.8 million in federal funding, a key indicator of strength for universities nationwide. That represents a 27 percent increase over last year’s total, and it includes $28.7 million in funding from federal stimulus dollars.

— A record 41 UCF researchers earned $1 million or more in grants last year.

— UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center led all UCF colleges and institutes with a record $21.2 million, including $10 million for a photovoltaic systems installation program that will generate electricity for at least 190 Florida schools and disaster shelters.

A stronger focus on commercializing research – including new programs that help emerging businesses succeed and grow during their early years — has fueled UCF’s growth in research during the past 11 years.

Since it was established in 1999, UCF’s Business Incubation Program has helped develop 100 companies and is credited with contributing more than $200 million in overall economic impact. The program helps new companies, many of which are strongly tied to UCF research, overcome the many challenges businesses often face in their first few years.

GrowFL, a companion program established by the Legislature in 2009, helps more developed companies grow and also is administered by UCF’s Office of Research and Commercialization. In its first year, GrowFL helped 100 companies create 320 new jobs.

“We are seeing technology developed at UCF lead to the formation of Central Florida companies and jobs, and we’re also seeing more national recognition for the strength of our research,” said Tom O’Neal, associate vice president for research, executive director of the UCF Business Incubation Program and administrator of the GrowFL technical assistance program.

The power of patents earned by UCF researchers has been ranked by two independent sources as among the 10 strongest in the nation. IEEE, the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology, ranks UCF third behind the system-wide institutions of the University of Texas and the University of California.

UCF ranked eighth in the Patent Scorecard for universities issued by the Patent Board and published this month in Intellectual Property Today. UCF joined MIT, the California Institute of Technology and the universities of California, Texas and Illinois in the top 10.