Something new happened in January that got me thinking about something old.

The new? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released a new fact sheet, titled Working Safety with Nanomaterials.

The old? Nanomaterials. How old? People have been safely putting them to work for millennia -- and nature's been at it since the beginning of time.

Let me explain. Let's start with the OSHA fact sheet. It's a simple, straightforward, common-sense tool, like the hundreds of other fact sheets OSHA offers on topics from flood clean-up to lab safety.

This one follows that longtime template, focusing on training and information, emergency planning and other sound precautions. Chances are, if you've been in the nanotech field any time at all, there's nothing unfamiliar there. There were certainly no surprises for me. I've been committed to working safely since I founded my company 26 years ago.

And that's what got me thinking. A 2-month-old safety document. A 26-year safety record. And then? It occurred to me that nanotechnology's health record can be traced back 4,500 years.

The ancient Egyptians put gold and silver utensils in their water vessels as an antibacterial. The artifacts have been found in tombs. Of course, the Egyptians didn't know nanotechnology was part of their water purification regimen. It's only now that we understand that nanoparticles of the precious metals formed naturally on the vessel walls from their macro-size components.  

Of course, even the Egyptian's nanotechnology is "new and improved" when you consider that nature has been manufacturing nanomaterials since, well, the beginning of time.  The ocean waves that beat rocks into sand create nanoscale versions of the elements, too. Volcanic eruptions produce nanomaterials. Butterfly wings have a water-repellant nanostructure, and gecko's feet have a sticky one.