Many kids and adults judge an amusement park’s fun factor by the thrill derived from its biggest and fastest roller coaster. What’s behind the thrills and chills? Ride designers use basic physics concepts involving force, motion, friction, direction, and speed to simulate danger as well as make the rides safe. According to the National Science Education Standards, middle school students need a strong foundation in the same basic concepts. The following resources illustrate how physics puts the fun in amusement park rides.
Funderstanding Roller Coaster
A Java applet allows students to manipulate their own simple roller coaster. Students can change the height of two hills and a loop, the speed and mass of the car, and the gravity and friction being applied. By experimenting with these variables, students will see how basic physics principles guide the engineering behind the design of real roller coasters.
Amusement Park Physics
You learn how the laws of physics are applied to many favorite amusement park rides, including roller coasters, bumper cars, carousels, and free fall and pendulum rides. A glossary and related resources are provided.
Centripetal Force: Roller Coaster Loops
What can be learned from a roller coaster ride? This video segment of a real ride explains the difference between centrifugal force and centripetal force and illustrates how roller coasters rely on centripetal force to give you a thrilling ride.
At this site, you can design a roller coaster and then climb aboard and see how it rides! Watch the ride from right above the car itself or, if your stomach isn’t up to that, from a fixed position away from the track. Students will get a continuous readout of the coaster speed and acceleration. A fun site!
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