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Pushing The Sensory Human Experience: The Physics Of Roller Coasters

2127 words - 9 pages

The anticipation renders you to become eager. After waiting in line, the rollercoaster cannot seem to get to the peak quick enough. The train clicks and clack's as it slowly ascends to the summit. The sun makes your hands sweaty from tightly holding on to the single lap bar that keeps you in your seat... and on that thought the adrenaline pumps through your blood. Suddenly your body flings forward as you plummet down the first drop, and then you're being forced down on the cart’s seat as you arch the bottom of the transition to going up the second hill. Wind whips in your face and, the pressure of your lap bar surprises you when you realize your body has left the seat, quickly being pulled back down into place as the earth approaches you. The hills get smaller but the experience gets more vivid. Some hills give the feeling that you have left your body behind and you’re flying forward, but then your body catches up just in time for the banked turns. The first turn, wasn’t so bad but the smaller turn causes you to black out completely. As your vision returns to you; the station is straight ahead and you sigh in relief as you have survived Nitro.
What factor allows a rollercoaster to give a person that experience? Physics allows roller coasters to give the human an adrenaline rush. With physics, engineers are able to mathematically calculate each experience a rollercoaster has without even having the rollercoaster built yet. The equations of the rollercoasters allow the engineer to know the forces released on the body, the speed and acceleration of the train, the energy lost due to friction and the resistance. Before the understanding of the theories derived from physics, roller coasters were limited to up and back designs, and any coasters that were more than just hills, had very dangerous conditions for the riders to experience. The development in physics during the 20th century, allowed for the advancement of better rollercoasters.
The basic physics in rollercoasters allow the everyday person to understand some major concepts in physics. A rollercoaster is basically a closed circuit, (if it is a continuous circuit layout) using potential and kinetic energy to go from the start to the end of the ride (Cutnell & Johnson 154). (For explaining the basics of roller coasters, I will use a simplistic track layout as seen in appendix A.) The first part of a roller coaster must be the work of a constant force, this work, or the chain lift in appendix A, allows the train to reach its highest potential energy, as the train ascends the first hill, the potential energy is changed to kinetic energy, the highest point of kinetic energy is at the bottom of the hill, and as soon as the train starts to ascend again the kinetic energy is switched back to potential energy (Cutnell & Johnson 162-165) as it climbs the next hill. This process continues for the rest of the drops in the rollercoaster.
Now according to Newton’s first law of motion, “an object...

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