Young scientist Peyton Robertson designs a sandless sandbag

The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge

This Brilliant 11-Year-Old Revolutionized Flood Prevention

The sandbags of the future will be sandless, thanks to this young genius.

Sandbags might become a thing of the past, thanks to an 11-year-old genius who has created a patent-pending invention to better protect people and property from flooding. A native of Fort Lauderdale, Peyton Robertson grew up in the path of South Florida’s powerful hurricanes. But it wasn’t until the vast devastation of Superstorm Sandy, which walloped the East Coast in the fall of 2012, that he considered a way to block tides of water more effectively. “Sandy really got me concerned about how people can prepare for that damage from flooding,” Robertson told NBC News. “But today, the most common method of flood protection is sandbags. They are really heavy and difficult to transport and leave gaps in between the bags. So, I redesigned the bag.”

Robertson makes it sound simple, but it’s actually far from it. His sandless sandbags are a mixture of advanced science and trial and error. The bags contain an expandable, lightweight polymer, which makes the bags easy to transport when dry. When they become wet, the polymer expands and transforms into a dense solution that holds the bags in place. The key to his design was adding salt — the amount of which Robertson continuously tested until he found the correct amount — which makes the polymer solution heavier than the invading seawater.

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This invention earned Robertson first place in the prestigious Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in October 2013. He is the youngest recipient of the award, but that hasn’t gone to his head. Instead, Robertson is focusing on new ways to change the world. “I see the world as a really dynamic place that I can change and affect,” he said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in November. “And I love to use the math and science I’ve learned to help people.”

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Source: NBC News

Erin Skarda is a freelance journalist and editor based in Denver, Colo. She is a former editor and writer for TIME.com.