Nikhilesh Das’s incredible invention to cure water pollution caused due to oil spillage

nikhilesh das

Nikhilesh Das was only 13 when he invented something incredible!! He used waste like human hair, bird’s feather, sawdust to clean oil from water. He was eager to find out a solution to the problem, after attending an exhibition on pollution. Though he did his initial research on the internet, but he was not satisfied. ‘Don’t search the Internet for solutions. Use your imagination and come up with your own idea, Nikhilesh mother said to him. Then, something wonderful drifted through his mind when he recalled his childhood days when his mother would oil his hair.

The young guy wondered if human hair could help separate oil from water. He borrowed a beaker from his school lab and some waste hair from the barbershop. He mixed motor oil and lubricant with water and saw a layer of oil form on the surface of water. He then used hair to absorb the oil from the water. Within 30 seconds, 90 percent of the oil was removed in the first attempt.

I started this experiment without thinking about the results, but to my surprise it worked perfectly. And this is how I was ready with the first ingredient to clean polluted water, Nikhilesh says.

After watching a documentary film on migratory birds that died due to oil spillage, Nikhilesh Das got the second idea to use bird’s feather to clean oil from the water. He read many articles to find out the cause behind their death. One particular line from one of the articles caught his attention, that reads ‘Oil got stuck to their feathers.’ Nikhilesh found out that the migratory birds would touch the surface of the water to catch fish and the oil would stick to their feathers. This would make them unable to fly, leading to a painful death. This is how Nikhilesh found his second ingredient as bird’s feather. He found his third ingredient sawdust, when he saw a carpenter using it to soak the oil from the ground, during his house renovation.

I repeated the steps and was successful again. So here I was, with three simple waste ingredients that could help address water pollution, he says.

Nikhilesh prepared a model using these waste ingredients and won many awards. Nikhilesh Das was also shortlisted by the National Innovation Foundation, and he received the award from the President of India in 2009. He even won an INK fellowship in 2011.

I would like to design a big hairbrush kind of machine, which could be used to clean water bodies. I am not an engineer and I don’t even have the resources or technologies to design a big machine though. I will be glad if someone could help me take the design to the next level.

Currently Nikhilesh is pursuing an undergraduate degree in physics from Guwahati, Assam. He wants to do more research on how to address issues related to air pollution. And he is also looking out for supporters to take out his innovations to the market.


Nikhilesh Das: How to clean oil spills


Image Credit: intalks