Age is just a number and education is just a tool is what we learn from the story of our first Ashoka Young Changemaker, Naisargik.

A class 11 student who took the initiative of researching and developing Bio-Remediation strategies to clean Chromium contaminated environments is an example of the vision that students need to have in order to make the best use of the tools that education provides us. Without a vision, tools are futile!

As Naisargik says, the most important skills he imbibed from his family were Patience, Hard work, Determination and Perseverance. Everything else can be learnt from anywhere at any time.

Naisargik, tell us about your initial years?

I am a student of class XI (Science), DAV Public School, Unit8, Bhubaneswar, Odisha. I am the only son of my parents. My father is a businessman and my mother is a homemaker. I have been participating in various extra curricular activities since a very young age like International Theatre Festival 2012, Cuttack, Odisha, National Children’s Festival- ‘Bal Bharat Srujanotsav 2012’, Mangalore, Karnataka , Rashtriya Bal Lok Nrutya Mahotsav (National Children’s Folk Dance Festival) ‘Thumak Thumakconducted by ‘Kilkari’, Bihar Bal Bhawan at Patna, Bihar , 2013, and National Level Club/Bulbul Utsav held at National Youth Complex, Gadpuri, Haryana,2014 etc. 

I used to participate in monoaction, dance drama, street plays for creating awareness regarding the “no tobacco” movement, “plantation drive”, “cancer awareness” programs etc on different platforms. I used to be personified as a cigarette and many used to call me ” here comes cigarette”. It had a direct impact on the viewers, once my friend  thanked me and told me how his father had left smoking .

Why did you choose to work on a Social Initiative?

I believe myself to be an amalgamation of the ideas and ideals that my family has faith in. Since I live in a joint family with both my maternal and paternal grandparents, I have always been very influenced by their values and beliefs. I have a bent towards ideas of justice and equality owing to the kind of impact my grandmother has had on me. She  was a social activist and has authored more than fifty books. My grandfather has infused in me the philosophy of ‘Propakaraya Swargaya’ (live for others) which has led me in fulfilling the duties as individuals have towards each other. I often spend quality time with children at orphanages and spend my weekends teaching underprivileged children. My family also shares the value of ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ (the whole world is a family) which has allowed me to experience various multicultural and multiethnic events. I’ve grown to be an ardent nature lover. My familial influences, I feel, have shaped me into an empathetic and open individual who is aware of his responsibility .

How did you feel when you just started off working on your initiative? Did you face any resistance from society/ parents/ friends/ family/ teachers ?

I am a researcher and innovator who wants to solve the problems and challenges in society through science and technology. From the very beginning I have an inquisitive mind. But the first tangible product or innovation I could do was when I was in class 6. Thereafter, I have not looked back. I am lucky to get all the support from my family in going ahead with my research ideas, but yes, I have faced resistance in many instances as well. Basically, in our traditional educational set up, when one wants to devote more time to experimentation, it’s not acceptable to many. Some may laugh saying, “what can a small boy do?”, “why are you wasting time on all these instead of studying?” etc.

What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

When I approached different institutes I was denied by many primarily on the grounds of who would fund me, why would anyone mentor a young boy when they have many other important things to do, and will I be able to handle equipment etc? But I must say there are good souls because of whom the world runs. I must mention the names of Prof Sailabala Padhi, who was then the Director of CES (Centre for Environmental studies, Govt. of Odisha), Dr Kishore Panigrahi of School of Biological Sciences,NISER, Dr Totan Adak of NRRI, Cuttack. They have bestowed all help, guidance and blessings on me to work out my plans.

Can you talk about your work ?

What problems do you solve?

When I was in class 6, I had been to Bali Yatra, a very big fair held at the  millennium city of Cuttack. I was disturbed by the foul smell due to open urination due to lack of clean mobile toilets. I felt it is a disgrace to our great civilization. It triggered the idea of developing a smart toilet model  which I named ‘Swachh Apt’. It was my little contribution towards Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

I have developed  a novel waste water treatment method using self isolated strains of Microalgae.

Next comes my biggest project on which I have worked for more than two years. I belong to Jajpur district of Odisha. The Sukinda valley region of my district is home to 98% Chromite reserves in the country. But I was shocked when I realized people of the area are paying a heavy price by risking their life in the face of development. Due to opencast mining there is the problem of Hexavalent Chromium which is the root cause of many diseases including Cancer. I studied literature and consulted many labs regarding this. I was discouraged by many but ultimately got proper support at the School of Biological Sciences Laboratory of NISER. I have developed a Bio-Remediation method for Hexavalent Chromium using Anabaena Cylindrica  imbibed in a Polymer Matrix. It not only prevents the entry of the carcinogen into the food chain but also enhances productivity of the rice crop.

What skills are needed for a job? How did you acquire the skills?

Certain statistical and technical knowledge is required .But these things can be learned or acquired. In my opinion skills that are more important are to have patience. There may be thousands of failures. Each time you must learn that the existing method will not work and try to find out an alternative. Hard work, Determination, Perseverance are certain attributes. 

What is a typical day like?

A typical day begins with a morning walk and soothing music. Then I go to my school from 7 AM to 2 PM. Post this I do my research work which continues till late evening or sometimes even late night. On specified days I meet my team members and we plan the upcoming course of action.

What is it you love about this job? 

When you solve a problem for societal good it gives a sense of fulfillment.

Any Awards, prizes, accomplishments?

I have won more than 300 awards in different national and international events like Pradhanmantri Rastriya Bal Shakti Puraskar (erstwhile known as national child award) given by the Hon’ble President Ram Nath Kovind, part of coveted team India to international Science and Engineering Fair 2018 at Pittsburg ang Regenereon ISEF 2020, Google Science Fair regional winner, an  Ashoka Young Changemaker, Karmaveer Global Fellow and Karmaveer Chakra Award (Bronze) recipient 2019, Young Scientist Award at Odisha Environment Congress 2018, Grand award at IRIS (Initiative for Research and Innovation in Science) National Science Fair, 2017 and 2020, National Level CBSE Science Exhibition at New Delhi, 2017 and 2020, Regional Winner in the Wipro Earthian Award 2015, Gold medal at SASMO-2017(Singapore And Asian Schools Math Olympiad), Bronze Award at SIMOC-2016 (Singapore International Math Olympiad Challenge)  held at Singapore etc .

How does your work benefit society? 

The BioRemediation method for Hexavalent Chromium is going to benefit lakhs of people residing in 72 villages in Sukinda valley region. Various activities I do along with my team, may it be working on a plantation program or distributing essential goods in cyclone hit areas or motivating juvenile members in jail, it is a small effort on my part to contribute towards a better world.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I believe anybody can be a Changemaker with the principles of A,B,C,D,E. 

1. ‘A’ for attitude- We have to develop the right attitude

2.’B ‘for belief- believe in yourself

3. ‘C’ for consistency- work on it again and again, try again and again

4.’D’ for dream- to dream high, to dream bigger, to dream out of box

5.’E’ for execute- execute your plant however difficult it may be.

Future Plans?

I want to scale up my research activities for solving problems of the society and pursue biomedical engineering so that I can bring some breakthrough technology in health sector.