Glenbrook South Year-End Projects
The Physics of Roller
Basic Research Questions
Your role as researcher for this project involves acquiring a
wealth of technical information about the physics of a variety of
amusement park rides, particularly roller coaster rides. The process
of conducting a literature search should yield some basic information
about the motion of a roller coaster car and its occupants in terms
of concepts such as speed, acceleration (both linear and
centripetal), net forces, normal forces, friction forces, momentum,
and energy (KE, PE, TME); when finished, you should be able to
conceptually and mathematically describe the motion of occupants on
roller coaster rides and other amusement park rides. Some basic
topics for research and ultimate discussion have been listed below to
assist you in the initial stages of your literature search. The role
of this listing is to provide an initial framework for your
literature search and not a conclusive list of topics to be
discussed. Your group is expected to go beyond these topics,
exploring diverse areas of individual interest about the physics of
roller coasters and amusement park rides.
- Describe Newton's laws of motion and explain how each
individual law can be used to explain the motion of an object on
roller coaster rides.
- Perform free-body diagram analyses for roller coaster car
occupants at strategic locations along track (e.g., on inclines,
on straight level sections, at the bottom of loops and the top of
loops, on banked curves, during braking sections, at the top and
bottom of small dips, etc.); combine the FBDs with Newton's second
law to predict the normal forces experienced by riders and relate
such predictions to the actual experiences of riders.
- Use kinematic equations and estimations of distance and
acceleration to predict the final speeds of roller coaster cars
during a linear section of track (e.g., on constant-angle inclines
and in the final braking section of the track.
- Define work and energy and use the work-energy theorem to
trace the presence of different types of energy for a roller
coaster car during a typical roller coaster ride; use work and
energy to perform sample calculations for a roller coaster ride.
- Relate kinetic and potential energy to speed and height and
use specific equations to calculate the actual speed and given
heights during a sample roller coaster ride (a sketch of the ride
with pertinent information should be included).
- Describe work-energy bar charts and use such charts to
describe energy transformations during roller coaster rides.
- Describe the motion characteristics of objects moving in
circles (or near circles) and relate such characteristics to the
motion of coaster riders through vertical loops and horizontal
curves; use mathematical equations to make predictions about the
relations between speed, radius, acceleration, net force and
individual force values.
- Conduct a free-body diagram analyses for objects on inclined
sections of track (such as on vertical drops and banked curves)
and explain how force vectors can be resolved to facilitate a
determination of the net force and accleration for such sections.
- Explain what is meant by g-forces and explain the
underlying physics which explain the various g-force
phenomenon during a roller coaster ride.
- Explain the cause of weightless sensations and relate such
sensations of weightlessness to the normal forces experienced by
roller coaster riders during specific sections of a roller coaster
- Explain how and why roller coaster designers use projectile
mathematics to design the trajectories of small dips and relate
such designs to the weightless sensations experienced by riders;
use a diagram and sample numbers to illustrate the usefulness of
- Describe what a clothoid loop is and explain why it is used in
place of the traditional circular loop.
- Describe some rotational motion principles and apply such
principles to explain the motion experienced by riders in either
roller coaster rides or other amusement park rides.
- Explain what is known about the physiological symptoms
experienced by roller coaster riders and relate specific symptoms
to the motion characteristics of roller coaster rides.
- Conduct a comparison between roller coaster rides and other
amusement park rides in terms of the underlying physics and the
related physiological experience of the riders.
- Explain the methods used and questions asked by roller coaster
designers and safety engineers in the process of designing roller
- Retrieve specific statistics about various roller coaster
rides, specifically record-breaking rides; make meaning of such
statistics by relating values of heights, speeds, and angle
measurements to the physics of motion.
- Describe the history of roller coaster rides and some of the
early disasters which resulted from phaulty physics.
The Physics of Roller Coasters
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This page last updated on 2/22/98.