Nathan Schwan has always had a passion for building things. 

When the time came for the Milford Central Academy student to enter the March 2 Kent County Science Fair at Delaware State University, he automatically knew where his strengths were.

Schwan, 12, was the first place winner in the environmental science category and is headed to the Delaware Valley Regional Science Fair at Drexel University in May.

He was surprised when he found out he came in first.

“They were down to first place and I was thinking there is no way it’s going to be me because quite a few people had entered,” he said.

He came in first out of 120 students.

Schwan’s project idea was an alternative to sandbags for stopping or containing water during floods. Instead of sand, he used a polymer which expands when it came in contact with water.

He came up with the idea during Christmas.

“I remember a couple of Christmases ago getting fake snow that I just added water to and it instantly got all big and puffy and I wondered what would happen if I put that in a sandbag.”

Schwan, who has dreams of becoming a civil or environmental engineer, was motivated by extreme flooding faced by South Carolina in 2015.

“At the time that I started my research there was flooding in South Carolina and I was wondering how much damage had been caused,” he said. “I was wondering of ways I could increase the likelihood of people surviving.”

Schwan isn’t going to Drexel alone. Some of his peers were second and third place winners and will attend the regional science fair.

Jackson Caldwell placed second in engineering and Jacob Smith placed third in zoology. Dylan Phillips and Brendan Slonacher were second and third in environmental science.

He thinks he could help farmers too.

“Farmers could till it into a soil in an area that has drought and because it doesn’t biodegrade that means it will stay in the fields for future use and supply plants with water,” he said.