The Physics of Roller Coasters

  • Length: 866 words (2.5 double-spaced pages)
  • Rating: Excellent
Open Document

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Text Preview

More ↓

Continue reading...

Open Document

A roller coaster is a thrill ride found in amusement and theme parks. Their history dates back to the 16th century. It all started in Russia, with long, steep wooden slides covered in ice. The idea then traveled to France. Since the warmer climate melted the ice, waxed slides were created instead, eventually adding wheels to the system. The first roller coaster in which the train was attached to the track was in France in 1817, the Russess a Belleville. The first attempt at a loop-the loop was also made in France in the 1850s. It was called the Centrifuge Railway. However, government officials quickly diminished the idea when the first accident occurred. Inventors since then have continued to capitalize on people’s love of a great thrill, always trying to make them bigger, faster and scarier!
“Even though roller coasters propel you through the air, shoot you through tunnels, and zip you down and around many hills and loops, they are quite safe and can prove to be a great way to get scared, feel that sinking feeling in your stomach, and still come out of it wanting to do it all over again (1).” Thanks to the manipulation of gravitational and centripetal forces humans have created one of the most exhilarating attractions. Even though new roller coasters are created continuously in the hope to create breathtaking and terrifying thrills, the fundamental principles of physics remain the same. A roller coaster consists of connected cars that move on tracks due to gravity and momentum. Believe it or not, an engine is not required for most of the ride. The only power source needed is used to get to the top first hill in order to obtain a powerful launch. Physics plays a huge part in the function of roller coasters. Gravity, potential and kinetic energy, centripetal forces, conservation of energy, friction, and acceleration are some of the concepts included.
“A roller coaster is essentially a gravity-powered train (2).” Gravity is the weakest of the four physical forces, but when it comes to roller coasters, it is the dominant one. It is the driving force and what accelerates the train through all the turns and twists. Gravity is what applies a constant downward force on the cars. The deceleration or acceleration mostly depends on the inclination of the angle relative to the ground. The steeper the slope is, the greater the acceleration, and vice versa.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"The Physics of Roller Coasters." 24 Jun 2018
Title Length Color Rating  
The Physics of Roller Coasters Essay - The Physics of Roller Coasters 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....   [tags: Physics Science Research]
:: 3 Works Cited
1493 words
(4.3 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Physics of Roller Coasters Essay - Roller coasters are driven almost entirely by inertial, gravitational and centripetal forces. Amusement parks keep building faster and more complex roller coasters, but the fundamental principles at work remain the same. A roller coaster is like train. It consists of a series of connected cars that move on tracks. But unlike a passenger train, a roller coaster has no engine or power source of its own. For most of the ride, a roller coaster is moved only by the forces of inertia and gravity....   [tags: Roller Coaster Theme Park Amusement] 1756 words
(5 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Essay about Pushing the Sensory Human Experience: The Physics of Roller Coasters - ... But thankfully engineers were able to create a new design for the loop. This clothoid shape, or tear drop shaped loop, (See Appendix C) allows the train to safely invert riders. The key to the clothoid shape is the loop’s changing radius; “which controls the speed of the cars, varying it according to a scientific law known as the conservation of angular momentum.”(Claiborne) Stretching the circle into a teardrop shape allows multiple radii lengths throughout the loop. A large radius at the bottom of the loop allows the train to enter the loop slower and lessen the centrifugal force on riders....   [tags: closed circuit, potencial and kinetic energy]
:: 4 Works Cited
1456 words
(4.2 pages)
Term Papers [preview]
Roller Coaster Physics Essays - The very first “roller coasters” were created in Russia in the 1600’s, and were nothing like the typical roller coaster that comes to mind today. People rode down steep ice slides on large sleds made from either wood or ice that were slowed with sand at the end of the ride. These sleds required skill to navigate down the slides, and accidents were frequent. A Frenchman tried to cash in on the popularity of the Russian ice slides by building one in France, but the warm climate quickly ended his attempts with ice....   [tags: physics roller coasters amusement theme park] 1832 words
(5.2 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Essay about Roller Coasters - Roller Coasters Roller coasters have come to be one of American’s favorite pastimes. Amusement parks are more popular than ever thanks to the exciting, fast-pace, “scream machine” rides known as roller coasters. Though many people may not know, roller coasters are entirely based upon science, from the speed of the cars to the safety of the ride. For one to understand the thrills as well as fears one experiences on a roller coaster, one must first understand the most basic component of these rides, the physics....   [tags: Roller Coasters]
:: 3 Works Cited
1676 words
(4.8 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Essay on The Physics of Roller Coaster - i: Introduction 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....   [tags: Physics] 1556 words
(4.4 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Roller Coaster Physics Essay - Undoubtedly roller coasters are the kings of amusements parks. Whether you enjoy a older, rickety wooden roller coaster with its thrill of positive and negative G's and a fairly wobbly feeling. Or, you prepher something newer, a tube steel roller coaster. A coaster that is faster, one that includes death defying speeds, hairpin turns, and of course the cr�me de la cr�me, loop de loops. However, regardless of you personal tastes and preferences, through exploring this page you will find that all roller coasters are indeed bound by the same fundamental laws....   [tags: physics amusement theme park] 1485 words
(4.2 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Roller Coaster Research Paper - The first roller coasters were patented by LaMarcus Adna Thompson in 1885 (Wikipedia), but roller coasters existed long before their paten. Back in late sixteenth century Russia there was a sport known as ice sliding where one would start at the top of a 70-foot wooden structure and pummel down a 600 feet long track on one’s 2-foot-long sleigh (Throgmorton 10). Ice sliding was only available during the winter months, so in the warmer months the Russians would affix wheels to their sleighs so they could enjoy sliding year round....   [tags: Engineering ]
:: 5 Works Cited
1122 words
(3.2 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
The Anatomy of a Roller Coaster Essay - The Anatomy of a Roller Coaster To adequately understand the relationship between physics and roller coasters, it is essential to first describe and explain the basic structure of roller coasters. In simple terms, a roller coaster is much like that of a passenger train. To explain, a roller coaster consists of a series of connected cars that move on tracks. However, unlike a train, a roller coaster has no engine, or rather a power source of its own. There are two major types of roller coasters, characterized mainly by their track structure....   [tags: Amusement Parks Rides Essays] 1773 words
(5.1 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Amusement Park Physics Essay examples - Missing formulas A new era in theme parks and roller coaster design began in 1955 when Disneyland ushered in the new era of amusement park design. Disneyland broke the mold in roller coaster design by straying from the typical norm of wooden roller coasters; thus, the steel tubular roller coaster was born. Disneyland’s Matterhorn was a steel tubular roller coaster with loops and corkscrews, which had never been seen before with the wooden coasters. In addition to the new steel tube roller coaster, the new coaster design also proved to be the most stable, allowing for wilder designs....   [tags: physics theme park roller coaster] 1043 words
(3 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]

The tallest hill of the entire ride is the first one. Here is where the ride gets all of its potential energy. The higher the lift is, the greater the amount of stored energy. As you start going down the first hill, that gravitational potential energy becomes kinetic energy and the train speeds up. The farther you go down the hill, the more potential energy is changed into kinetic. As you go up the next hill, kinetic energy is then changed again into potential, which is why it slows down. Roller coasters work due to this constant conversion of energies. Surprisingly, the total energy doesn't decrease or increase; it just continuously changes from one form to the other. However, it is important to take friction and air resistance into account since it is the reason why the energy is gradually lost. This is why each successive hill is lower than the other in order for the coaster to be able to make it over the peak!
Ideally, mechanical energy would be conserved during the whole roller coaster ride. However, thanks to friction and other dissipative forces, it is impossible for the train to have enough energy to make it back up the original lift hill's height. Friction is a type of nonconservative forces, which are the ones that cause a change in total mechanical energy. The friction between the air, train, and tracks take energy out of the system. This is the reason why the train slows down and why heat and sound are created. The effect of friction is most noticeable at the end of the ride, when all of the kinetic energy is destroyed by the use of breaks. The brakes consist of clamps built directly into the track itself. “At the end of the track, and at other points along it, there are series of vertical fins which hit against the bottom of the car when it’s time for the roller coaster to stop (3).” The fins cause the friction necessary to stop the ride.
Another concept included in the function of roller coasters is inertia and centripetal force.
Roller coasters have always been something that caught my interest. Ever since I was a young girl, I have been attracted to those huge infrastructures that looked extremely petrifying. I was always curious on how they were so popular yet looked so dangerous. My first experience in a roller coaster was formidable, in a way I wanted to ride it over and over again. When my physics teacher announced that we could choose to write on a topic free of out interest, I immediately thought of roller coasters. After learning so much about them, I can’t wait to ride another one and fully understand what is happening at the moment.

Return to