The Buzz

April 2016 Editor's Pick

Physics of Roller Coasters

Ack! You are at the top of a roller coaster about to drop—then, thanks to physics and engineering, you make a safe landing despite all the jitters! In this lesson, middle school students learn about the physics behind roller coasters, investigating potential and kinetic energy as well as friction and gravity, and explore how engineers apply the basics of physics to roller coaster designs. They learn how the force of gravity drives roller coasters and that the conversion between potential and kinetic energy is essential to its motion. In addition, they learn how roller coasters slow down due to friction and the role that velocity and acceleration play in the motion of these exhilarating rides. This imaginative lesson provides the necessary background knowledge for its associated activity, "Building Roller Coasters," in which students design and build model roller coasters. This lesson geared towards upper middle school students meets many science and technology standards, including NGSS and ITEEA.

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