Technovation team String Theorists develop award-winning disaster relief app

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The following excerpt is from “Waterloo students develop award-winning disaster relief app,” an article by Namish Modi published on July 10, 2019 in WaterlooChronicle.ca, the city of Waterloo community website of Metroland West Media.


Inspired by the worst floods in the state of Kerala, India in over a century, a pair of 14-year-old girls created an app to help with disaster aid, resulting in them winning a North American competition. 

Leya Oommen, a Grade 8 student at K-W Bilingual school, visited Kerala in 2018 and was inspired, through the result of the floods, to develop the app AID, short for Aid In Disaster. 

photo of Ellen Brisley and Leya Oommen

L to R: Team String Theorists members Ellen Brisley and Leya Oommen

“My grandfather wanted to help by buying resources for the flood relief organizations. He didn’t know what to buy, there was so much chaos, that led to this idea,” explained Oommen.

Oommen and classmate Ellen Brisley, who coined themselves ‘String Theorists,’ developed AID as part of a pitch for the Technovation competition, where they were named the junior winners of the North American regional semifinals. 

The app focuses on the remnants of a natural disaster, making a more efficient way for organizations, donors, and victims to co-ordinate aid. It is designed to connect donors, emergency response organizations and governments to make sure survivors receive the help they need. Victims share what they need through their location. Response organizations can focus on a region’s needs while donors can see what resources are required.

“The biggest thing is after a disaster, people need information so that they don’t need to freak out, and they can be calm after the chaos,” explained Brisley. “You don’t have to worry about resources coming in, you don’t have to worry about what to access. So pretty much, our app just helps organize all the information, so that’s not a priority, and saving people’s lives really is.” 

Through their involvement in Technovation the past two years, along with a visit to Communitech, the girls have developed a further interest in programming and are going to take courses in the future to learn more. 

“We were really excited and we were really surprised,” said Oommen, as the pair didn’t start on AID until March. They explained that they spent about three hours a day in the last few weeks trying to get the project done before the competition.

Debbie Smith, Waterloo Women in Computer Science co-ordinator, who works directly with the Technovation program, says that normally students begin work on their projects in January, as it takes quite an amount of work.

The String Theorists

Team String Theorists members Ellen Brisley and Leya Oommen were one of the junior winning teams at the 2019 Technovation Waterloo Challenge, the flagship program of non-profit Iridescent.

Technovation is the world’s largest global tech entrepreneurship competition for girls. The program offers girls around the world the opportunity to learn the skills to emerge as tech entrepreneurs and leaders.

Watch the String Theorists' pitch video about their app

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