You apprehensively walk up the iron steps and onto the platform. You’re reluctant to go any further, but your friend eggs you on, saying, “It’s not that fast.” You step into the seat and pull the harness down over you. No, this isn’t the latest, greatest technological frontier. It’s a roller coaster. Since 1804 when the first wheeled roller coaster- called “Les Montagnes Russes”- was constructed in Paris, France, roller coasters have been a staple of adventure and fantasy among children and children-at-heart. But there’s no magic involved with these fantastic creations, there’s a plethora of forces and laws governing their every movement. From kinetic energy to inertia, roller coasters are intricate engineering marvels that function through the laws of physics. This is a look into those physics that result in a thrill ride unlike any other.
For centuries, human beings have unknowingly used the very physics principles seen in the roller coasters of today in pursuit of not only thrills, but also survival. As early as 30000 years ago, our ancestors were using some of the most basic laws of physics seen in roller coasters today to their advantage. Although they didn’t quite understand why, when they threw a wooden spear high into the air at a woolly mammoth the spear would fall to the ground accelerating at every second. Of course, they were demonstrating gravitation. Physicists of the 16th century knew how to harness the law of gravity as well, using it to construct the first roller coaster- consisting of simple ice slides accelerating down 70-feet slopes before crashing into giant piles of sand (the latter part demonstrating another important physics principle: inertia.) As the centuries prog...
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...e rider or the car. But as the train hits a turn in the track, it will want to continue going forward. The track will impede this from happening and push back at the rider and the car, pinning the rider to the side of the car. Although the rider will feel as if there is a force acting on them towards the outside of the curve, there is actually a force called centripetal force pushing towards the inside of the track. This lateral force is actually a force of 1-G, or the equivalent of lying down on your side.
In conclusion, since the earliest versions of roller coasters sprang up in the 16th century they have been a staple of thrill and amusement for people of all ages. But, like anything else on this Earth, they are governed by a simple yet complex set of physics principles and concepts including kinetic and potential energy, g-forces,
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