Community Collaborations

Ceramic Filter Project

Ceramic Filter ProjectThe Ceramic Filter Project is a multidisciplinary group at the University of Pittsburgh that works with community organizations in the Pittsburgh area on the development and implementation of low-cost ceramic water filters through service learning experiences and research.

The activities of the Ceramic Filter Project are supervised and coordinated by Dr. Ian Nettleship in the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Dr. Nettleship works with student organizations (Engineers Without Borders, Engineers for a Sustainable World, etc.) and other faculty to recruit students into the project and develop documented "hands-on" service based learning experiences for student participants. Dr. Nettleship also works with other faculty on curriculum development and research programs related to the activities of the Ceramic Filter Project.

Safe drinking water is essential to health, survival, growth, and development. Over 884 million people worldwide do not currently have access to clean drinking water. The World Health Organization says that millions of people die each year from diarrhea because they don't have access to clean water. Clay-based ceramic water filters are among a few technologies that are recognized to be promising and accessible technologies by the World Health Organization because they have been shown to be very effective at removing bacteria from drinking water. It is also a sustainable approach because all societies have a functioning ceramics manufacturing industry that has traditionally supplied containers for household water storage.


Ian Nettleship heads a team of engineers studying the distribution of silver through ceramic water filters. The metal tends to flake off the surface of the filter, so Nettleship's team seeks a longer lasting solution. The tiny, nondescript domes dripping water into Home Depot buckets don't look like much in the name of saving lives or cutting edge research, but Nettleship points out that the filters remove contaminants from drinking water, with the potential to save thousands of lives.


His team collaborates with Potters for Peace, and a group of ceramic artists who have been developing the filters in a pottery studio in Braddock, Pa., a former steel town adjacent to Pittsburgh. Nettleship and his students study the ways the metal needs to cooperate with the clay; Potters for Peace work on distributing the filters and disseminating information about their use.


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