Conventional engineering materials used in manufacturing and construction are mass-produced with standard compositions and properties. In order to reduce the unit cost of such materials, the means of production is typically concentrated in a relatively small number of locations. Such concentration requires access to large amounts of capital, sophisticated organization, specialized education and research, as well as access to global supply chains. Marginalized communities around the world do not have access to these means and are largely excluded from opportunities to innovate and manufacture technologies suited to their needs.
In contrast, non-conventional materials are locally sourced and adapted to lower technology production environments. They are natural cultivated materials and earthen materials that can be produced in marginalized communities for their own use with little capital investment, less specialized education and minimal connection to global supply chains. Non-conventional materials are used in alternative technologies for low-cost housing and point-of-use water treatment that allow practitioners in marginalized communities to innovate in response to their local conditions, customs and culture. In this way the use of non-conventional materials improves social sustainability of alternative technologies while reducing impact on the environment.
Pitt-NOCMAT is committed to the development and implementation of non-conventional materials and alternative technologies in engineering. This requires new ways of adapting manufacturing and construction to the large variation in composition, structure and properties of non-conventional materials found in different locations. New standards based on performance rather than composition are required. Engineers must be educated in the application of these materials in order to provide technical support to local entrepreneurs who adapt and innovate with these materials and the technologies that use them.
The emphasis of Pitt-NOCMAT is towards the persistent social inequities in the availability of conventional materials and mass produced technologies pertinent to the continuing need for low-cost shelter and safe drinking water around the globe.
Pitt-NOCMAT integrates materials focused research with community focused service learning; more specifically:
(i) Research focused on new quantitative understanding of locally sourced, non-conventional materials and their properties.
(ii) Education and training in non-conventional materials and alternative technologies that prioritize the interests of marginalized communities.
(iii) Service learning experiences – through collaboration with non-profit organizations that work in the field – that inspire students to empower peoples of marginalized communities.
(iv) Mentoring that assists students to discern their course of action upon graduation and instill life-long learning and career objectives.