AUSTIN, Texas -- University of Texas scientists developed what they say is a better way to separate oil and water. They believe it can not only help in oil spills, but it could also help clean drinking water.

Hugh Daigle, assistant professor at the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department, and his team published a study in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research that shows how they have developed a system to use nanoparticles, polymers and a magnet to remove oil from water.

"It's a technique called a high gradient magnetic separation," Daigle said. "This has been used in the mining and food industries for a number of years to remove metallic contaminants."

Daigle and his team coat nanoparticles in different types of polymers. They choose the coating based on what they want to remove -- like oil.

"It's actually an electrostatic reaction, so it's just like using a feather duster," Daigle said.

Once the polymer attaches to the oil, a magnet is added.

"We can apply a magnetic field to the solution and pull out those oil droplets because now they've got little magnets attached to them," Daigle said.

This technology could help clean up oil spills, maybe take lead out of water or clean water after fracking.

"This really puts us at the forefront of the discliplne," he said.