The University of Central Florida now ranks among the nation’s top research institutions, according to an independent analysis released today.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching designated UCF as a university with “very high research activity.” UCF joins universities such as Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins and Stanford in that top tier, which does not include specific rankings for each university.

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

In addition, UCF’s success moving technology from the laboratory to the marketplace and helping emerging businesses grow elevated the university’s classification since the last Carnegie Foundation analysis in 2005.

In one of the highest-profile examples of UCF’s growth in commercializing technology, the strength and economic impact of the university’s patents were ranked third in the nation last year by IEEE, the world’s leading association for the advancement of technology.

“Earning the Carnegie Foundation’s top classification is a testimony to our institutional commitment to fueling Florida’s innovation economy,” said UCF President John C. Hitt. “Through our many research partnerships, we are improving the quality of health care, training high-quality teachers, helping to preserve our environment and much more.”

In 2009-10, UCF received $75.8 million in federal funding, a key indicator of strength for universities nationwide. That represents a 27 percent increase over the previous year’s total. In addition, a record 41 UCF researchers earned $1 million or more in grants.

University research also has played a major role in Central Florida’s development of some of the nation’s strongest concentrations of companies in optics and lasers, simulation and training, computer science, alternative energy and biomedical sciences.

UCF’s Business Incubation Program has seen explosive growth since its launch in 1999. The program, which is currently serving 100 companies, is set to open a ninth location in Central Florida. In 2009 alone, current and graduate companies involved in the initiative had an economic impact of about $200 million in the region and created about 1,650 direct and “ripple effect” jobs with an average salary of $60,000.

The incubation 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. Since  its first year, GrowFL has helped 160 companies create 418 new jobs.

Last year, UCF became only the second public university in Florida to earn the Carnegie Foundation’s classification as an institution that has made substantial commitments in the Curricular Engagement and Outreach & Partnership categories through its mission, culture, leadership, resources and practices.