Peyton has never been an ordinary kid. He was already solving math problems at only three years old, and his parents were also quick to spot his inclination towards science and math. They encouraged the boy to think outside the box and taught him that when problems arise, the solutions are always out there waiting for someone’s discovery.
With such supportive parents, Peyton’s creativity flourished. When the 2005 storm named “Wilma” devastated his neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale, the boy noticed how inefficient the traditional sandbags were, as they were unable to keep floodwater out while gaps still allowed water to seep in. The sandbags were also quite heavy, weighing about 40lbs each; transporting them and moving them around was quite a task, and after only one use, the sandbags weighed twice as much soaked and would have to be disposed.
Peyton refused to stand by and look on after identifying the problem, and he sought ways to mitigate the flooding. Wilma left them with an incredible 43 billion dollars’ worth of damage, about 80% of which was caused by flooding. His answer to the problem was the “Sandless Operational Sandbag,” which weighs one-tenth of a traditional sandbag at only 4lbs. How is it possible? Well, Peyton is a whiz kid: he used his scientific knowledge to concoct a formula that will expand the sandbag when it becomes soaked with water, and “interlock” to prevent floodwater from seeping through gaps. He also added salt to make the contents denser than seawater.
Interesting, eh? If only more people focused on finding a solution rather than dwelling on the problem, we would have less to worry about now. We can learn from Peyton. This boy is going to do much more, considering what he has already done before even becoming a teenager.
In 2005, the United States was battered by a Category 5 storm named “Wilma.” A toddler at the time, Peyton remembers waiting out the storm inside a closet in their Fort Lauderdale [Florida] home. As it turned out, Florida was of the most-ravished areas; of the estimated 43 billion dollars of damages, 80% was caused by seawater flooding. The sandbags did little to keep the water out of residential areas.
As young as he was, Peyton realized that many were unprepared for such a disaster. A son of supportive parents, Peyton was told to always look for solutions to the problems around him. He was even doing math problems at three years old! His parents decided it would be best to enroll him in the Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science, or IMACS, to supplement his education.
A Young Inventor
Being mentally and physically active, Peyton enjoys solving math problems and also spending time outdoors playing golf. One cold day, he noticed that his golf ball was not bouncing as much as usual. He thought that the ball’s temperature might have something to do with its ability to bounce, so he conducted experiments and determined that a ball that isn’t left in the cold keeps its normal bouncing capacity compared to a cold one.
What did this whiz kid do about this discovery? He invented. Peyton came up with a golf ball container that keeps the ball at room temperature, even on cold days. He is still seeking to have it patented, but has been contacted by manufacturers for a potential business deal.
Another of Peyton’s inventions was the “retractable trainer wheel.” When his twin sisters were first learning how to ride a bicycle, they used trainer wheels, which did not allow them to practice balancing and learning the real way to ride. They had to take off the trainer wheels and risk falling when they failed to keep their balance.
Rather than let his sisters suffer the consequences of learning how to ride without trainer wheels, he set out to help them by finding a way to make the trainer wheels easier to manage. He soon fashioned a bicycle with retractable trainer wheels; when the rider feels ready to try biking without them, all he/she has to do is pull the lever connected to the trainer wheels, and they will lift off the ground. When the rider may be close to falling, he/she can let go of the lever and the trainer wheels will drop again for support.
The patent for the retractable trainer wheels is now being pursued; bike manufacturers have also contacted him for a potential deal using this ingenious creation.
First Place in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge
The invention that catapulted Peyton to worldwide fame was his “Sandless Operational Sandbag,” which was his entry for the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2013. The event was open to young inventors from fifth to eighth grade.
After Hurricane Wilma devastated Florida in 2005, Peyton saw that traditional sandbags did little to prevent their community from being flooded with seawater. The “Category 5” storm caused 43 billion dollars’ worth of damage, 80% of which was caused by flooding. Another storm in 2012, a Category 3 storm named “Sandy,” reminded the young boy of the inefficiency of traditional sandbags.
So, he wondered if there was any way to solve the problem by reinventing the first line of defense against the flood. He realized that polymers [a material that expands when soaked in water] are much lighter than sand. Conducting tests then led him to conclude that polymers can be used as absorbent materials in place of sand.
But, saltwater is denser than tap water. In order to leverage the polymers’ absorption capacity, Peyton added salt to the contents of the bag to make sure the polymer sandbags, when soaked in saltwater, would not be overpowered by water from the sea. The amount of salt each sandbag held was enough for the polymers to reach their maximum absorption capacity while increasing the sandbag’s density. To address the gaps, Peyton designed the bags to “interlock” when stacked to keep the floodwater out.
The “Sandless Operational Sandbag” earned Peyton first place in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in 2013. He also made history by becoming the youngest-ever winner of the competition, at age 12. Peyton will be using his 25,000 dollars in prize money to fund his college studies and, perhaps, solve more problems in the future.
This boy is certainly geared to do more:
"In Florida, citrus canker causes trees to drop their fruit early. I’ve been wondering whether it might be possible to reduce citrus canker with something similar to a preventative immunization for trees. I’ve also been thinking about whether it might be possible to combine underwater speaker technology, echolocation and an algorithm to help lead whales like those recently trapped here in the Everglades back to open waters." (SOURCES: TED Blog)
Organizations and Programs Supported
- Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge
Awards and Achievements
- 2011: Won the National Kids' Science Challenge Grand Prize
- 2013: Won first place in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for inventing the “Sandless Operational Sandbag” and was the youngest-ever winner of the event
- Has three pending patents
- Started inventing at eight years old
TED Blog (This scientist has three patents pending. He also happens to be 12.)
The Huffington Post (Peyton Robertson, 11, Invents Better Sandbag For Protection During Hurricanes And Floods)
Laughing Squid (12-Year-Old Peyton Robertson Develops Ingenious Polymer Sandbag for Flood Defense)
Mother Nature Network (Meet Peyton Robertson, the 12-year-old scientist with 3 patents pending)
Mirror (Hurricane inspires boy aged 11 to invent 'sand-less sandbags' for use in flood defence)
Fast Company (This Brilliant Kid Invented A Sandless Sandbag For The Next Hurricane Sandy)
NBC News (11-year-old designs a better sandbag, named 'America's Top Young Scientist')
Young Scientist Challenge (Peyton Robertson)
IMACS (Peyton Robertson’s Success Is In The Bag)
Dashburst (This 12-Year-Old Scientist Has Already Invented a Way to Reduce Flooding from Deadly Hurricanes)
AWESCI (Meet a 12-year-old Scientist - Peyton Robertson)
Digital Trends (A 5th-grader invented a sandless sandbag to fight floods more effectively)
Inventor Spot (Need This New Invention? Sandless Sandbags From America's 2013 Top Young Scientist)
Steve Spangler Science (11-YEAR-OLD INVENTS SANDLESS SANDBAGS THAT USE POLYMER SIMILAR TO INSTA-SNOW)