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History of the Physics Department

Mrs. Jennings' Wooden Leg

Not for the faint of heart, it's a rite of passage for graduating doctoral candidates in experimental physics. The "leg," located in the machine shop in the Physics Building is actually a 12 and-1/2-foot tall wooden beam adorned with brass plaques engraved with the names of those who have earned their doctoral degrees in SU's physics department over the past five decades.

The story goes that when the physics department was located in Steele Hall, the floor under Mrs. Jennings' desk began to sag. Some say it was the heavy safe that was installed nearby. Others think it was the desk. At any rate, the beam was placed at a strategic location to prevent the floor from collapsing.

After the program's first doctoral can­didates in experimental physics defended their dissertations In 1951, they and their colleagues gathered around the beam and celebrated as candidates Erich Harth and Robert G. Luce climbed it, placed a "greasy thumbprint" on the ceiling and then screwed to the post a brass plaque engraved with their names and dissertation titles.

Every year since, the candidates have gathered around the beam, donned official lineman's safety gear belts and tool holders and gone climbing. The ritual is not formal and is done more as an impromptu party to celebrate the candidate's hard work. --from "Shinning Up Mrs. Jennings Wooden Leg is a Physics tradition", Syracuse record, May 19, 1997, author staff writer Judy Holmes.

For more about Mrs. Jennings' Wooden Leg, read the full Syracuse Record article.

Check for the brass plaques commemorating a successful doctoral degree from the SU Physics department, by plate (pdf listing).

Diagrams of the Beam: (Leg View 1) (Leg View 2)

Photographs of the Leg: (Photo 1) (Photo 2)