Originally posted on TED Blog:
When 12-year-old Peyton Robertson sees a problem, he is going to fix it. So when the young scientist noticed a perennial problem in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Florida –flooding during the region’s nasty hurricane season – he set to work building a better sandbag.
Peyton’s sandbag contains an expandable polymer that’s lightweight and easy to transport when dry, but that becomes a dense solution to hold bags firmly in place when it’s wet. He also added a dash of salt – an addition that makes the solution in the bags heavier than approaching seawater. And to eliminate the gaps between sandbags that tend to let some water through, he designed an interlocking fastener system that holds the bags in place as the polymer expands. As the bags dry after the storm, they return to their original state so they can be reused.
The ingenious sandbag (and Peyton’s “commanding delivery, innovative thinking, and sound grasp of the scientific method”) won him first place in the prestigious Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. He was the youngest winner in the contest’s history. In addition to the $25,000 award and a trip to Costa Rica this summer with the other finalists, he got lots of love from the media, including an adorable spot on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He’s also filed for an open patent so that others can use and build upon his design.