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STEM GLAM GALLERY: Peyton Roberton

At only 16 years old today, Peyton Roberton has proven himself to be an accomplished inventor. He is the youngest winner in the history of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, a Grand Prize Winner in the National Science Foundation's Science Challenge, a Bevan Scholar, and a Davidson Scholar. He currently holds 5 patents for inventions and has nine additional patents pending.

The invention that first made him famous was his design of an innovative, new sandbag. In 2005, as the United States was battered by Hurricane Wilma, Roberton witnessed and experienced the terrible effects of the natural disaster. He saw that the sandbags were not effective in keeping the seawater out, so he challenged himself to improve the design –and he succeeded.

His design 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. The ingenious part of his design was the addition of salt, which makes the solution in the bags heavier than seawater. While his solution sounds simple, one of the biggest challenges was to understand, test and calculate the swell rate of the polymer when exposed to 10 percent salt, so that he could calculate the right amounts for the salt and polymer mixture. In addition, to eliminate the gaps between the sandbags, he also designed an interlocking fastener system that holds the bags in place as the polymer expands. Not surprisingly, this design won him first place in the prestigious Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, where he became the youngest-ever winner of the competition.