Sync Stories: How a PhD Manages His Research Data

Sync Stories is a column dedicated to our users. Each week, we showcase a different use case for BitTorrent Sync and the personal stories behind it.

In this week’s edition: Mark Wolf, a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shares how he keeps his research work synced across devices (to be accessed anywhere) and fully private.

From Mark: 

I’m a graduate student pursuing a PhD in chemistry. My research centers on a new technique for characterizing the electrodes used in lithium-ion batteries. The reactions that take place inside a rechargeable battery are not always straight-forward and when they go down a path other than the one intended, the capacity of the battery suffers. This is one of the reasons that your cell phone doesn’t last nearly as long after a year or so of heavy use. The implications extend farther than that, however. Rechargable batteries will play a prominent role in the development of electric vehicles as well as shifting our electric grid to use more renewable sources of energy. X-ray diffraction (XRD) can identify the different products in a lithium-ion cell; I’m developing a variation of this technique to map the surface of an electrode to see where the different components exists. This will give us information about the underlying mechanisms and hopefully allow for a more thoughtful design of future energy storage systems.

Mark Wolf BitTorrent SyncI first used Sync when I finally got sick of having all my data spread across multiple machines. I would take my laptop on trips but not be able to get anything done because all my files were back at the office. I wanted something that didn’t put personal information on somebody else’s servers and didn’t limit me on how much data I could store.

I do all of my analysis using GNU/Linux, while the computers that collect my data are Windows-only, so cross-platform support is a must. Additionally, I sometimes find myself in airplanes or trains so I need something that doesn’t leave me hanging when there’s no internet connection. I tried things like OwnCloud and Sparkleshare but they all failed me in some way or another. I found Sync when it was in version 1 beta and it’s been my tool-of-choice since then.Mark Wolf BitTorrent SyncI have five computers that are all tied together, plus my cell phone and tablet. The powderXRD and microXRD computers run Windows and are the ones that control the two XRD instruments we have. In one session, the micro-XRD generates about 2GB of data at its lowest resolution settings. Unfortunately, the interface is old so the computer has outdated hardware. This makes data analysis very slow. To solve this problem, I have a desktop computer (“Kaylee”) in my office running GNU/Linux with a nice processor and lots of RAM. Sync ensures that once the XRD computers are done, the data I need all show up on Kaylee ready for me to process. Then, I’ll take my laptop (“Inara”) to meetings and after giving it a few minutes to sync, pull up the results of my analysis for discussion.

Occassionally I will bring River into the XRD lab and make changes to my code, which then show up on the micro-XRD computer for testing in real-time. I’d rather not use a laptop keyboard and touchpad if I’m coding at home, so I have another machine there (“River”) plugged into a monitor, keyboard and mouse; Sync puts all my data there as well. Or perhaps I think of an idea on the train on the way home: using my phone (“Zoe”), I can pull up the graph I generated earlier to see if my idea holds water.

Basically, I use Sync to keep on top of all the data my research generates in multiple different places. Without it, my day would be an endless string of flash-drives, lost files and frustration.

Image: Flickr/Neil Conway