Birmingham is blazing a trail in the micro-technologies of tomorrow, according to the New Science and Innovation Minister.

Lord Drayson, appointed in the Prime Minister’s reshuffle last month, chose Aston University for his first official visit since taking office.

It was a return to familiar territory for the minister, a successful businessman in his own right who was a post-graduate at Aston in the 1980s.

Praising “ground breaking” research, Lord Drayson said pioneering techniques being developed at the university would provide a new science-based manufacturing base for Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Projects inspected by the minister included a micro-robotic drill for use in surgery, able to drill a tiny hole in the shell of an egg without bursting the membrane, which is being developed for use in operations on the inner ear.

He also inspected a project to use fibre optics instead of electric sensors in aircraft fuel tanks, cutting substantially the risk of sparks setting off an explosion.

Lord Drayson said: “When I was at Aston the West Midlands was characterised by manufacturing. Now a lot of growth is going on in fibre optics.

“Aston is developing really ground-breaking research which could lead to the development of spin out companies, but the key thing is to make sure these small businesses have access to venture capital and funding.

“We have the talent and we have to make sure that is matched with working capital.

“These businesses have to be helped to grow into major employers.

“We have seen a real improvement over the past 10 years in the way we have gone about reforming technology transfer at universities. This is something we have to absolutely maintain during these times of economic downturn.”