ONNA, Okinawa — Japanese officials have narrowed the field of candidates for president of a new graduate school to two U.S.-based scientists.

The top two candidates are British biologist Sydney Brenner, the 76-year-old co-winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in physiology and Salk Institute professor in California, and American physicist Jerome Friedman, a 73-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of physics and a 1990 Nobel Prize winner.

The men were announced as the top candidates during a recent Tokyo meeting of the committee charged with planning the new school.

Both men have been key members of the panel working to open the graduate school by 2007: Friedman heads the panel and Brenner is the vice chairman.

The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology is to be built along the island’s central-west coast, an area dotted with resort hotels.

Courses will be taught in English.

The school is part of a wide-ranging national public works package designed to boost Okinawa’s economy. Planning and construction of the school is expected to cost about 80 billion yen, or $745 million.

According to the institute’s planning committee, the school is to establish a “strong research base in Okinawa by gathering top-class scientists from around the world and supporting their research and collaboration with other prominent scientists.”

Okinawa was chosen as the location for the new school because it “historically has been a location of international exchanges” and is “located at a geographically important place that is close to the major cities of Asia,” according to the committee.

The president of the institute is to be selected from overseas and more than half of the faculty and students will be non-Japanese, planning documents say.

“English will be utilized as its common language for all lectures, meetings and communications,” according to the plans.

An administrative body for the school is to be selected by September 2005 and the first class is slated for the fall of 2007.

The university will emphasize research and graduate studies in life sciences, focusing on biosystems, according to its prospectus.

Toshimitsu Motegi, the minister in charge of Okinawan Affairs, is to visit Los Angeles later this week to meet with the two candidates, an official of Tokyo government’s Political Coordinator’s Office in charge of Okinawa confirmed.

Although Motegi is to meet with Friedman and Brenner, there may be other candidates for the school’s top post, the official said.

“We will do our best to select president at the earliest possible time,” Motegi said Dec. 26. “We will choose the person through whom the world would recognize that the school is in world-class level.”

— Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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