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The UCLA Library DataSquad is a team of undergraduate students who support data-related projects at UCLA. As part of the UCLA Library Data Science Center, the DataSquad works with students who need help with their data projects and highlights the work of researchers using data at UCLA.

Eva Horna Lowell and Sean O’Fallon, graduate students in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, are making sure even the smallest creatures are researched in the Pinter-Wollman Lab(opens in a new tab) at UCLA.

Initially, Lowell and O'Fallon's goal was to study the differences in ant nests exposed to various environmental conditions using wax casts of the tunnels. However, because the tunnels were so intricate and delicate in nature, the casts kept breaking, making it necessary to approach the problem in a different way.

A 3D representation of a part of an ant nest on the computer. Each broken segment appears a different color in the software.

At the Data Science Center (DSC) Lux Lab, Emerging Technologies Librarian Doug Daniels helped Lowell and O'Fallon record detailed information about the nests without sacrificing the integrity of the tunnels. Using an Artec Space Spider Scanner with a 0.1 mm resolution light scanner, Lowell and O’Fallon were able to get 3D scans of the ant nest. There were some challenges, given that the casts had already broken into pieces, but with a collaborative effort, they were able to start the reconstruction of the nest virtually.

Communication was key, as it is difficult to describe the orientation of an object purely through video chat and screen sharing. The casted pieces of the nest then had to be hand-painted for the scanner to see them.

At the conclusion of the project, the two researchers were left with valuable visual data analysis for future reference.