The roller coaster has its beginnings in Russia where during the 1600's. People crafted sleds out of wood and built hills made of ice blocks. The hills had sand at the bottom to help slow down the sleds so they would not crash when they reached the bottom of the hill.1 Over time, the roller coaster has become more complex. They now are taller, faster
and are designed out of different materials like wood and steel. Although roller coasters are fun and exciting, the questions, what allows them to twist and turn, go up and down hills at a fairly good speed? Why do they not fall off of the track when it goes through a loop? The answer to these questions and others about roller coasters lies in the application of basic physics principals. These principals include potential and kinetic energy, gravity, velocity, projectile motion, centripetal acceleration, friction, and inertia.
The basic design of a roller coaster consists of a train like coaster that starts out at the bottom of the tallest hill of the ride. The train is then pulled up the hill and is pulled to the top of the hill. As the train is pulled from the bottom of the hill to the top of it, the trains' potential energy is converted onto kinetic energy. Potential energy is defined as "the energy of an object at a height h above some zero level as equal to the work done by the force of gravity"2 (139). Kinetic energy is the energy of "an object . . . because of its motion"2 (132). As the distance between the ground and the train of cars increases, the potential energy of the train increases as well.
This increase in potential energy increases the amount of kinetic energy that can be released in the system therefore causes the system to be ...
... middle of paper ...
... depleted causing the train to come to a stop.
So, as you can see, roller coasters are an excellent example of the use of forces energy in a system and how they interact with one another to cause motion and to stop motion of objects. If these forces were not present, then we would have a very difficult time doing anything because there would be no way to start motion and if there was motion it would be very difficult to stop it.
1. Annenberg/CPB. “Roller Coaster History” Amusement Park Physics: What are the forces behind the fun?. Learner.org http://www.learner.org/exhibits/parkphysics/coaster2.html. . April 29, 2003.
2. Kirkpatrick, Larry D. and Gerald F. Wheeler. Physics: A World View. ed. 4. Harcourt College Publishers. Fort Worth. 2001.
3. Britannica Online. “Roller Coaster Physics. http://search.eb.com/coasters/physics/. May 1, 2003.
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