2013-10-29

Co.Exist

This Brilliant Kid Invented A Sandless Sandbag For The Next Hurricane Sandy

Watching this amazingly enthusiastic 11-year-old explain his flood protection invention might just make your day. The judges of a national science contest were also impressed.

As a Florida native, 11-year-old Peyton Robertson knows the havoc that hurricanes can wreak. He also knows that much of the damage from these hurricanes comes from saltwater flooding. After seeing the extensive flooding that happened during Hurricane Sandy, he came up with a partial solution: a lightweight sand-less sandbag that's purportedly more effective than traditional sandbags. His idea recently won the $25,000 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which crowned Robertson as “America’s Top Young Scientist."

"Sandbags are great in flood protection, but they can be heavy and hard to transport," he explains. Robertson's sandbag, developed with guidance from a 3M mentor, contains salt and an expandable polymer instead of sand. The mixture is lightweight when dry, weighing about one or two pounds. But when inundated with water, Robertson's sandbag expands and becomes denser than seawater. An interlocking fastener system, also developed by Robertson, keeps multiple bags in place while the polymer expands, ensuring that water doesn't seep into gaps between them

This isn't Robertson's first invention. Before the sandbag, Robertson developed both a golf ball warmer and retractable training wheels (designed for his sister, who was learning to ride a bike). "I love learning about things in the world that are hard to explain. You can find science in everything," he says.

This probably won't be the end of Robertson's work on sandbags. "I filed a provisional patent for the invention in the Young Scientist Challenge, and I would love to keep working on that—to help people with saltwater flood damage," he says.

The 11-year-old has no plans to go on a spending spree with his $25,000 prize. He says that he'll "definitely put it towards college." In the meantime, he's excited about another grand-prize reward: The opportunity to go to Costa Rica with the other finalists.

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23 Comments

  • I admire this kid's parents for supporting their child in what he does. I hope they inspire other people to allow their children to embrace creativity.

  • I can't help but smile while reading this article. I'm just happy to see a young kid so passionate about making the world around him better. Keep it up, Peyton!

  • Patty Christian

    Jon--I just watched the link you posted. My company has looked at buying sandbags recently so I've become pretty familiar with the differences. This ingenious kid designed his for a science competition and so it is an open patent we can all build upon. On the outside he created an interlocking system which allows individual bags to be linked to one another. It might make sense for Lifegear to add this to their product as it would make their bags more stable when stacked. On the inside his is filled with a calculated combination of 10% salt and polymer to make it heavier that salt water floods. It looks like Lifegear is polymer only inside from the picture in the video. From what I read adding salt creates an interesting problem this young man solved as polymer swells less when salt is added so it creates a tricky pre-fill calculation he solved. Lifegear looks neat too but it is pretty different technically.

  • Danica Pope

    Whoa! Brilliant young man. And can I add good-looking,too? But seriously, very smart invention.

  • Kelly Howard

    Will you marry my daughter? Ha ha. But seriously, what a terrific young man! Stanford and Harvard should watch out for Peyton! Good job!

  • Emily

    Kids like this who have that unique and powerful combination of raw brainpower along with the creativity to see the world differently can one day create an innovation that will change the world. Kudos Kudos Kudos!

  • ben_marko

    Great idea - but how much is it estimated to cost? It never amazes me how many great ideas fail to include how much they might cost. And what kind of polymer? Does it brake down over time? How long? Just curious, how many ideas get labeled as breakthrough before disappearing forever? If this is being used everywhere in a few years it will actually be a breakthrough. It's real breakthrough value is more than likely in what it might lead to.