The Physics of Roller Coasters
By Kate Fontes
How does energy change throughout the coaster track?
The type of energy is not the same throughout the entire roller coaster. It changes frequently. At the top of the hill, the coaster has a large amount of potential energy, due to the fact that it is so highly elevated above the ground. As the cart descends, the potential energy decreases because of the loss of height. Once the potential energy decreases, the kinetic energy then begins to increase. Kinetic energy depends on the mass of an object, and the speed of an object. The roller coaster speeds up as it loses height, and therefore gets a larger kinetic energy. As the ride goes on, the cart continuously gains and loses height. Overall, a gain in height leads to a loss of speed, which in return leads to potential energy. Loss of height leads to gain in speed, which then gives a gain in kinetic energy.
Why are changes in energy important for the coaster to function?
Without changes in energy, a roller coaster wouldn't really work. There is no motor or engine keeping the cart moving throughout the track, so it's really up to energy. These changes are necessary, because they allow the ride to complete the track successfully and be able to make it up and down the hills without being too slow.
Construction and Ride Experience: Wooden VS Steel
Wooden roller coasters and steel roller coasters are two TOTALLY different things. For starters, wooden coasters are usually non-looping, and not as tall or as fast as steel coasters. Their tracks are generally not as long, and they involve way more swaying. Steel coasters allow more looping, and they usually have much longer and steeper hills. On a steel coaster, be prepared to find greater drops and rolls, and much faster speeds. Both are super fun!
Roller Coaster Safety
Many people are terrified of roller coasters, and for good reason. They are tall, fast, and exhilarating! But on top of all this, they are totally safe. Throughout the track, there are many safety breaks that are built in, so the ride can stop immediately at the end or in case of an emergency. Restraints, such as lap bars or over the shoulder harnesses, keep the passengers from falling out of their seats while they are on the ride. Along with these restraints, roller coasters also have many computer controlled restraints. In the control booth, there are about 3 programmable logic controllers, and they monitor the rides operation. They regulate the cart speed, and ensure that all trains are a good length apart, so that collision is avoided. They also alert the human operators of glitches, or any track issues. Everything is carefully checked on before the ride takes off. Wheels on the coaster grip to the track to keep the cart from flying off, and wheels underneath the track keep carts from flying into the air. So next time, if you're afraid to step onto a ride, just remember-You will be safe!