Roller Coasters!

Physics of Roller Coasters

Types of Energy:

During a roller coaster there are three types of energies which include kinetic, potential, and mechanical energy. When the roller coaster is at the top of the hill potential energy starts to form, since the cart is elevated off the ground and is storing as much energy as possible to then release when it goes down the hill. As soon as the cart starts making it's way down the hill, kinetic energy (energy in motion) begins to occur since there is a decrease in height and increase in sound. As most roller coasters have, the process continues with loops or even more hills! The change back in forth from potential to kinetic energy in roller coasters is mechanical energy, where the speed, sound, and height increase and decrease is mechanical energy. Mechanical energy is important in roller coasters because without potential energy there would be no energy available to release the cart, and without kinetic energy there would be no motion in the roller coaster.
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Types of Roller Coasters

The two types of roller coasters available are wooden and steel roller coasters.

Wooden Roller Coaster

  • Non looping
  • Not as fast
  • Not as long
  • Not as tall
  • Sways more


  • Running wheels
  • Friction wheels
  • Conversion of potential energy into kinetic energy, and vice versa.
  • Compressed air brakes

Steel Roller Coaster

  • More looping
  • Taller
  • Faster
  • Steeper

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Roller Coaster Safety


Compressed air brakes are used at the end of the ride to stop the cart from moving.


Running wheels are used to keep the cart on the track while friction wheels control lateral motion, which is movement from side to side on the track. Lastly there is a final set of wheels that keep the car on the track during inversion.

Computer Control:

During a roller coaster you are protected from the roller coaster going to fast so that it is unsafe. The reason is that there are people working the machine to make sure the speed does not go over the limit, they make sure carts never come to close to one another, control seat belts making sure everyone is secure, and alert workers in case there are technical glitches or track problems.

Apart from the mechanical things causing roller coasters to be safe their are also seat belts. On some non looping roller coasters and all looping roller coaster, the seats have harness to prevent you from falling. Even though roller coasters are safe, there are some things that on your own you should take in consideration. Before riding a roller coaster there are signs that tell you while being on line that you should not ride if your pregnant, under the use of alcohol, under an age limit, or height and weight. If those situations above apply to you and you choose to ride the roller coaster, then you are risking your own life meaning the roller coaster is not risking your life.