A £10 million centre for the study of nanoscience has opened at Birmingham University.
The centre, which is one of only a handful in Britain, is expected to help develop the city's growing reputation as a high-tech hub.
Its 300 scientists, researchers and engineers will study atoms through microscopes 1,000 times more powerful than those found in a school laboratory.
Professor Jon Preece, from the university's school of chemistry, helped launch the centre, which is based at the university and has been called the Collaborative Research Network in Nanotechnology.
He said: "Nanotechnology is at the forefront of breakthroughs in medicine, cosmetics and industry, and at the very limit of present scientific knowledge.
"It is the technology of the very small, sometimes known as microscience. We look at things that are 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. In this world, new laws of physics apply.
"It inspires the creativity of scientists and its application can make a real impact on the regional economy. It is the ultimate lego set.
"Birmingham has a great tradition of innovation and was at the forefront of technology during the Industrial Revolution. This is an opportunity for the city to again be at the forefront of the new 21st century technologies."
He said the centre would provide jobs and spark interest from high-tech entrepreneurs. His colleague, Professor Richard Palmer, who joined Birmingham University's physics department 11 years ago to develop nanoscience research, said businesses in the region would benefit from the centre.
He said: "Industry will be able to tap into the expertise available."
One of the world's leading chemists, Professor Fraser Stoddart, was invited to launch the centre. Professor Stoddart, who used to teach chemistry at Birmingham University, has won prizes for his nanoscience research at the University of California, Los Angeles .
Nanoscience manipulates molecules and atoms to make materials using measurements 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair and a millionth of a millimetre.
Researchers are currently using their knowledge to create 24- hour aftershaves, invisible ear devices for the deaf, and minute objects to guide missiles.
The Government has set up the National Micro and Nano Technology Network to boost the use of nanoscience in British industry.
Science Minister Lord Sainsbury has said he wants the UK to be a "world leader" in the development and regulation of nanotechnologies.
But in a report for the Royal Society, he admitted the UK was at the "same stage today as we were in the 1940s with computers".