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.