$3,000 reward for computer containing 18 years of research
On Saturday, Nov. 18, a computer was stolen from the electrical engineering department, stifling the work of three graduate students and 18 years of research by Professor Kelvin Wagner.
The computer was stolen at approximately 1:30 p.m., and the department has offered a $3,000 reward for its return. The machine is filled with years of valuable research and thesis, but really has no dollar advantage.
A CUPD police report says, “The server contains several years of research data that is extremely important to several graduate students who used the computer. According to electrical engineering Professor Kelvin Wagner, the data would not likely be useful to anyone else. CU authorities are working with Wagner to determine the precise nature of the total data lost.”
Although the police are working hard, the graduate students who have lost the data are still bearing a terrible burden.
Sangtaek Kim, a graduate student in the electrical engineering department at CU, lost several files with experimental data, a collection of data figures from a thesis, and a record of a simulation run for an optical device optimization.
“I think time is one of the most important assets in life,” Kim said. “You can always buy back your computer, but time is priceless. That stolen hard drive is a piece of magnetic disk worth of a couple of hundred dollars, but for me, it is my priceless time. That’s why it is emotionally devastating. We would be really grateful and happy if we can only get those hard drives back.”
Another graduate student with time invested into the computer is Jingyi Xiong. Xiong had months of figures drawn from experimental set-ups and experimental results, movies of these experiments, and a 90-page thesis summarizing his reports. He has spent almost three years gathering the data and is upset about the loss.
“I lost my simulations and derivations from Oct. 14 ’til Nov. 18,” Xiong said. “Simulation seems to be the least serious part of my loss.”
Xiong said he knows he can replace some of the things lost by retyping, but that it is a burden to have to that. What he cannot recover are the data from his experiments, and he may even have to redo them.
“I guess the part I worry about the most are the figures, some of them might even require redoing the experiments to recover,” Xiong said. “Some of the figures are even not in any (backed up) PDF files or printed out hard copies. Even for those in the PDF files, if I want to make a slight change of them, I need to redraw the whole picture. I can’t imagine how much time it would take if I have to redraw all of the figures.”
Another graduate student with significant data lost is Benjamin Braker, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering. He lost most of his data and work of four years, including all of his past presentations, experimental data and custom software he created.
“This stuff is worthless, or near worthless, to anyone but me,” Barker said.
The students were not the only ones who lost data. The head of the research group, Professor Wagner, lost much of his data as well.
“Our server contained something like half to a whole terabyte of all of my group’s research over the past 18 years in the areas of optics for information processing,” Wagner said.
Although the data loss has been devastating to the department, both CU and the CUPD have attempted to help.
“The CU graduate school and the ECE department chair have been very understanding and extraordinarily helpful of these students’ horrible plights, and the police have been assisting too.” Wagner said. “But getting the server back would remove an unimaginable burden from the students.”
The police have offered a reward up to $1,000 for any information leading to an arrest. The police department is telling people who know anything about the crime to contact Boulder County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.