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Having lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida all his life, 11-year-old Peyton Robertson is well aware of the havoc caused by hurricanes. At the tender age of 4 he suffered through Hurricane Wilma, one of the most intense tropical cyclones from the Atlantic and then just last year experienced Hurricane Sandy, the deadliest, most destructive storm of the 2012 season and the second most costliest of all US storms.
It was therefore not surprising, that when the sixth grader decided to enter the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge earlier this year, he was inspired to invent something that would help people during natural disasters.
For his entry, the young boy decided to try makeover the humble sandbag. While extremely effective against rising seawaters, it is heavy and cumbersome to lug around, not to mention very bulky to store. Using his science and math skills the young boy began to experiment with alternate materials that could be as effective against the surging waters, without the added weight.
After experimenting with several constituents the young boy and his science mentor from 3M corporation settled on a combination of salt and expandable polymer. This mixture makes the bags not only easier to carry, but also seems to be more effective at keeping the rising waters at bay. The best part is that the bags are completely flat, making them easy to store. Upon news of an impending natural disaster, all the user has to do is douse them in water. This causes the polymer to swell and create the volume needed to turn them into effective barriers. To ensure that the water does not seep in through the gaps between the bags, Peyton also developed an interlocking fastener system.
Not surprisingly, the Sandless Operative Sandbag or SOS as Peyton likes to call it, impressed the judges of the national science contest so much that on October 24th, he was awarded the coveted title of 'America's Top Young Scientist', as well as $25,000 USD and an all-expenses paid trip to Costa Rica! While thrilled at winning the challenge, Peyton, who has filed for a provisional patent for his invention, plans to continue working on perfecting the bag and hopes that the next time the seawater swells, SOS will be available to help save lives and billions of dollars in property damage.
This is not the first time Peyton has wowed the nation with his practical inventions - At the age of nine, he was named one of three winners in a nationwide science challenge for elementary students for his invention of a golf ball warmer!