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Pushing The Sensory Human Experience: The Physics Of Roller Coasters

2061 words - 9 pages

The anticipation builds. The roller coaster cannot seem reach the peak quickly enough. The train clicks and clacks as it slowly ascends to the summit. Your hands sweat from your tight grasp 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 is flung forward as you plummet down the first drop. Then you are 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. 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. The hills get smaller but the experience gets more vivid. Some hills give the feeling that you have left your body behind and you are flying forward, but then your body catches up just in time for the banked turns. The first turn was not 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 roller coaster to give a person such an experience? Physics allows roller coasters to give the human an adrenaline rush. With physics, engineers are able to mathematically calculate each experience a roller coaster has without even having the roller coaster built yet. The equations of the roller coasters allow the engineers to know the forces released on the body, the speed and acceleration of the train, and the energy lost due to friction and resistance. Before the understanding of the theories derived from physics, roller coasters were limited to up and back designs. Many coasters that were more than just hills had very dangerous conditions for the riders to experience. The understand of kinetic and potential energy, G forces, and advancements in the vertical loop, and roller coaster types allowed for the advancement of better roller coasters.
The basic physics in roller coasters allow the everyday person to understand some major concepts in physics. A roller coaster 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 descends 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). This process continues for the rest of the hills in a roller coaster.
Now according to Newton’s first law of motion, “an object in motion stays...

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