Physics of rollercoasters

Mary Melik

Types of Energy in a roller coaster

In a roller coaster there are three different types of energy. Kinetic energy, potential energy and mechanical energy. Kinetic energy is energy that a body possesses by virtue of being in motion. Kinetic energy depends on the speed and mass on an object. Potential energy is the energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position relative to others, stresses within itself, electric charge, and other factors. Potential energy depends on the height and mass of an object. Mechanical energy is the sum of potential energy and kinetic energy. Mechanical energy depends on the kinetic and potential energy.

How The Energy Changes Throughout The Roller Coaster

When the cart is at the top of a hill on the roller coaster track it has the most potential energy. It has this potential energy because it is in a vertical position when on the hill. The cart has potential energy from being in a vertical position because when it is in this position because when released it will drop down faster than the speed it started at so it has the potential for going much faster. As the cart rolls down the hill it begins to lose this potential energy and as it's rolling down the hill it gains kinetic energy. As the cart loses its height it gains speed therefore transforming this potential energy to kinetic energy. And during the entire ride there is mechanical energy but different amounts throughout the course of the roller coaster because mechanical energy is the sum of potential energy and kinetic energy and during the ride the amounts kinetic and potential energy are always changing because there are many twists, turns, clothoid loops, hills, drops, etc.

Why The Changes In Energy Are Important

The changes in energy on a roller coaster are important because these changes are what keeps the roller coaster moving. Potential energy is what makes the cart roll down the hill which is obviously an important part of a roller coaster. The time when the cart has the most potential energy is when it is sitting vertically on the track and is about to roll down, then once it is rolling down it loses its potential energy which is important because as this happens it gains kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is important because it is what keeps the cart rolling down the hill and also what makes the cart make it up the hill. Then the cycle of potential to kinetic repeats which is important because without potential and kinetic energy the roller coaster wouldn't even be able to move.

Wooden VS. Steel Roller Coasters

I personally have never been on a roller coaster, but from what I've seen and heard I know that steel roller coasters and wooden roller coasters are very different. Steel roller coasters have much steeper drops and more loops than wooden roller coasters. Steel roller coasters are also smoother and faster than wooden roller coasters. Wooden roller coasters are much different. Since they aren't as stable as steel roller coasters they don't have drops as steep and they have no loops. Wooden roller coasters are not made entirely of wood, The base is made of wood but the tracks are steel which is pretty much the only think the two types of roller coasters have in common

Safety of Roller Coasters

Roller coasters have two types of restraints depending on the actual roller coaster. The types are a bar restraint or some type of harness. All roller coasters and controlled by Programmable Logic Controllers (usually three of them) These programmable logic controllers monitor every single aspect of the roller coaster. They make sure the roller coaster isn't going too fast or too slow, they make sure the carts aren't too close or too far from each other, they notify the person operating the ride if there are any glitches or problems, they also notify the person operating if one of the restraints aren't strapped in place to insure that safety of everyone during the ride. The brakes are also on the actual track not the carts so that it has a stronger grip on the carts and can stop it quickly whenever necessary. Every one of these things help insure the safety of the people on the roller coaster and they also insure fun and thrilling experiences!