Roller Coaster Physics Coursework Ideas

Pre-Req Knowledge

An understanding of forces, particularly gravity and friction, as well as some familiarity with kinetic and potential energy. An understanding of Newton's second law of motion and basic motion concepts such as position, velocity and acceleration.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Explain why it is important for engineers to know how roller coasters work.
  • Explain in physics terms how a roller coaster works.
  • Discuss the effects of gravity and friction in the context of their roller coaster designs.
  • Use the principle of conservation of energy to explain the layout of roller coasters.
  • Identify points in a roller coaster track at which a car has maximum kinetic energy and maximum potential energy.
  • Identify points in a roller coaster track where a car experiences more or less than 1 g-force.
  • Identify points in a roller coaster track where a car accelerates and decelerates.

More Curriculum Like This

Building Roller Coasters

Students build their own small-scale model roller coasters using pipe insulation and marbles, and then analyze them using physics principles learned in the associated lesson. They examine conversions between kinetic and potential energy and frictional effects to design roller coasters that are compl...

A Tale of Friction

High school students learn how engineers mathematically design roller coaster paths using the approach that a curved path can be approximated by a sequence of many short inclines. They apply basic calculus and the work-energy theorem for non-conservative forces to quantify the friction along a curve...

Mathematically Designing a Frictional Roller Coaster

Students apply high school differential calculus and physics to design 2D roller coasters in which the friction force is taken into consideration. Student teams first mathematically design the coaster path (using what they learned in the associated lesson) and then use foam pipe wrap insulation mate...

Kinetic and Potential Energy of Motion

Students are introduced to both potential energy and kinetic energy as forms of mechanical energy. A hands-on activity demonstrates how potential energy can change into kinetic energy by swinging a pendulum, illustrating the concept of conservation of energy.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS: Next Generation Science Standards - Science
  • Develop a model to describe that when the arrangement of objects interacting at a distance changes, different amounts of potential energy are stored in the system. (Grades 6 - 8) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
  • Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object. (Grades 6 - 8) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
Common Core State Standards - Math
  • Solve linear equations in one variable. (Grade 8) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
  • Use units as a way to understand problems and to guide the solution of multi-step problems; choose and interpret units consistently in formulas; choose and interpret the scale and the origin in graphs and data displays. (Grades 9 - 12) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
International Technology and Engineering Educators Association - Technology
North Carolina - Math
  • Solve linear equations in one variable. (Grade 8) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
  • Use units as a way to understand problems and to guide the solution of multi-step problems; choose and interpret units consistently in formulas; choose and interpret the scale and the origin in graphs and data displays. (Grades 9 - 12) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
North Carolina - Science
  • Understand characteristics of energy transfer and interactions of matter and energy. (Grade 6) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
  • Understand forms of energy, energy transfer and transformation and conservation in mechanical systems. (Grade 7) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
  • Explain how kinetic and potential energy contribute to the mechanical energy of an object. (Grade 7) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
  • Explain how energy can be transformed from one form to another (specifically potential energy and kinetic energy) using a model or diagram of a moving object (roller coaster, pendulum, or cars on ramps as examples). (Grade 7) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
  • Compare the concepts of potential and kinetic energy and conservation of total mechanical energy in the description of the motion of objects. (Grades 9 - 12) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
  • Interpret data on work and energy presented graphically and numerically. (Grades 9 - 12) Details...View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment? Thanks for your feedback!
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Introduction/Motivation

Today's lesson is all about roller coasters and the science and engineering behind them. Before we start talking about physics, though, I'd like you to share some of your experiences with roller coasters. (Listen to a few students describe their favorite roller coasters. Point out some of the unique features of each coaster, such as hills and loops, that relate to the lesson.)

Does anyone know how roller coasters work? You might think that the roller coaster cars have engines inside them that push them along the track like automobiles. While that is true of a few roller coasters, most use gravity to move the cars along the track. Do any of you remember riding a roller coaster that started out with a big hill? If you looked closely at the roller coaster track (on which the cars move), you would see in the middle of the track on that first hill, a chain. You might have even have felt it "catch" to the cars. That chain hooks to the bottom of the cars and pulls them to the top of that first hill, which is always the highest point on a roller coaster. Once the cars are at the top of that hill, they are released from the chain and coast through the rest of the track, which is where the name roller coaster comes from.

What do you think would happen if a roller coaster had a hill in the middle of the track that was taller than the first hill of the roller coaster? Would the cars be able to make it up this bigger hill using just gravity? (Conduct a short demonstration to prove the point. Take a piece of foam pipe insulation cut in half lengthwise and shape it into a roller coaster by taping it to classroom objects such as a desktop and a textbook, as shown in Figure 1. Then, using marbles to represent the cars, show students that the first hill of a roller coaster must be the tallest point or the cars will not reach the end of the track. Refer to the Building Roller Coasters activity for additional instructions.)

(Next, play off other students' roller coaster experiences to move the lesson forward, covering the material provided in the Lesson Background and Vocabulary sections. For example, talk about the point in the roller coaster where you travel the fastest, how cars make it through loops and corkscrews, and what causes passengers to feel weightless or very heavy at certain points in the roller coaster. The order in which you teach these points, and possibly more, is not critical to the lesson. Also, it may be more engaging for the students to ask questions based on their experiences with roller coasters and let those questions lead the lesson from one point to the next. All of these points can be demonstrated using the foam tubing and marbles, so use them often to illustrate the lesson concepts.)

Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers

The underlying principle of all roller coasters is the law of conservation of energy, which describes how energy can neither be lost nor created; energy is only transferred from one form to another. In roller coasters, the two forms of energy that are most important are gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy. Gravitational potential energy is the energy that an object has because of its height and is equal to the object's mass multiplied by its height multiplied by the gravitational constant (PE = mgh). Gravitational potential energy is greatest at the highest point of a roller coaster and least at the lowest point. Kinetic energy is energy an object has because of its motion and is equal to one-half multiplied by the mass of an object multiplied by its velocity squared (KE = 1/2 mv2). Kinetic energy is greatest at the lowest point of a roller coaster and least at the highest point. Potential and kinetic energy can be exchanged for one another, so at certain points the cars of a roller coaster may have just potential energy (at the top of the first hill), just kinetic energy (at the lowest point) or some combination of kinetic and potential energy (at all other points).

The first hill of a roller coaster is always the highest point of the roller coaster because friction and drag immediately begin robbing the car of energy. At the top of the first hill, a car's energy is almost entirely gravitational potential energy (because its velocity is zero or almost zero). This is the maximum energy that the car will ever have during the ride. That energy can become kinetic energy (which it does at the bottom of this hill when the car is moving fast) or a combination of potential and kinetic energy (like at the tops of smaller hills), but the total energy of the car cannot be more than it was at the top of the first hill. If a taller hill were placed in the middle of the roller coaster, it would represent more gravitational potential energy than the first hill, so a car would not be able to ascend to the top of the taller hill.

Cars in roller coasters always move the fastest at the bottoms of hills. This is related to the first concept in that at the bottom of hills all of the potential energy has been converted to kinetic energy, which means more speed. Likewise, cars always move the slowest at their highest point, which is the top of the first hill.

A web-based simulation demonstrating the relationship between vertical position and the speed of a car in a roller coaster various shapes is provided at the MyPhysicsLab Roller Coaster Physics Simulation. This website provides numerical data for simulated roller coaster of various shapes.

Friction exists in all roller coasters, and it takes away from the useful energy provided by roller coaster. Friction is caused in roller coasters by the rubbing of the car wheels on the track and by the rubbing of air (and sometimes water!) against the cars. Friction turns the useful energy of the roller coaster (gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy) into heat energy, which serves no purpose associated with propelling cars along the track. Friction is the reason roller coasters cannot go on forever, so minimizing friction is one of the biggest challenges for roller coaster engineers. Friction is also the reason that roller coasters can never regain their maximum height after the initial hill unless a second chain lift is incorporated somewhere on the track.

Cars can only make it through loops if they have enough speed at the top of the loop. This minimum speed is referred to as the critical velocity, and is equal the square root of the radius of the loop multiplied by the gravitational constant (vc = (rg)1/2). While this calculation is too complex for the vast majority of seventh graders, they will intuitively understand that if a car is not moving fast enough at the top of a loop it will fall. For safety, most roller coasters have wheels on both sides of the track to prevent cars from falling.

Most roller coaster loops are not perfectly circular in shape, but have a teardrop shape called a clothoid. Roller coaster designers discovered that if a loop is circular, the rider experiences the greatest force at the bottom of the loop when the cars are moving fastest. After many riders sustained neck injuries, the looping roller coaster was abandoned in 1901 and revived only in 1976 when Revolution at Six Flags Magic Mountain became the first modern looping roller coaster using a clothoid shape. In a clothoid, the radius of curvature of the loop is widest at the bottom, reducing the force on the riders when the cars move fastest, and smallest at the top when the cars are moving relatively slowly. This allowed for a smoother, safer ride and the teardrop shape is now in use in roller coasters around the world.

Riders may experience weightlessness at the tops of hills (negative g-forces) and feel heavy at the bottoms of hills (positive g-forces). This feeling is caused by the change in direction of the roller coaster. At the top of a roller coaster, the car goes from moving upward to flat to moving downward. This change in direction is known as acceleration and the acceleration makes riders feel as if a force is acting on them, pulling them out of their seats. Similarly, at the bottom of hills, riders go from moving downward to flat to moving upward, and thus feel as if a force is pushing them down into their seats. These forces can be referred to in terms of gravity and are called gravitational forces, or g-forces. One "g" is the force applied by gravity while standing on Earth at sea level. The human body is used to existing in a 1 g environment. If the acceleration of a roller coaster at the bottom of a hill is equal to the acceleration of gravity (9.81 m/s2), another g-force is produced and, when added to the standard 1 g, we get 2gs. If the acceleration at the bottom of the hill is twice the acceleration of gravity, the overall force is 3 gs. If this acceleration acts instead at the top of a hill, it is subtracted from the standard 1 g. In this way, it can be less than 1 g, and it can even be negative. If the acceleration at the top of a hill were equal to the acceleration of gravity, the overall force would be zero gs. If the acceleration at the top of the hill were twice the acceleration of gravity, the resulting overall force would be negative 1 g. At zero gs, a rider feels completely weightless and at negative gs, s/he feels as though a force is lifting him/her out of the seat. This concept may be too advanced for students, but they should understand the basic principles and where g-forces greater than or less than 1 g can occur, even if they cannot fully relate them to the acceleration of the roller coaster.

Vocabulary/Definitions

acceleration: How quickly an object speeds up, slows down or changes direction. Is equal to change in velocity divided by time.

critical velocity: The speed needed at the top of a loop for a car to make it through the loop without falling off the track.

force: Any push or pull.

friction: A force caused by a rubbing motion between two objects.

g-force: Short for gravitational force. The force exerted on an object by the Earth's gravity at sea level.

gravitational constant: The acceleration caused by Earth's gravity at sea level. Is equal to 9.81 m/sec^2 (32.2 ft/sec^2).

gravity: A force that draws any two objects toward one another.

kinetic energy: The energy of an object in motion, which is directly related to its velocity and its mass.

potential energy: The energy stored by an object ready to be used. (In this lesson, we use gravitational potential energy, which is directly related to the height of an object and its mass.)

speed: How fast an object moves. The distance that object travels divided by the time it takes.

velocity: A combination of speed and the direction in which an object travels.

Associated Activities

Assessment

Pre-Lesson Assessment

Before the lesson, make sure students have a firm handle on gravity, friction, potential and kinetic energy, and the basics of motion. This can be done in the form of a short quiz, a warm-up exercise or a brief discussion. Example questions:

  • What causes gravity?
  • What is friction?
  • How do potential and kinetic energy differ?
  • What is the difference between speed and velocity?
  • How is acceleration related to velocity?

Lesson Summary Assessment

Show students a photograph of a roller coaster that includes a hill and a loop. Expect them to be able to identify:

  • Points of maximum potential and kinetic energy.
  • Points of maximum and minimum velocity.
  • Points where g-forces greater or less than 1 are experienced.

Homework

Ask students to design their own roller coasters or find an existing roller coaster on the Internet and identify its characteristics in terms of the physics concepts learned in the lesson. This assignment also serves as an introduction to the associated activity, Building a Roller Coaster.

References

Bennett, David. Roller Coaster. Aurum Ltd., 1999.

Roller Coaster Database. Copyright 1996-2007. Duane Marden. Accessed 5/3/2007. http://www.rcdb.com/

Funderstanding Roller Coaster. Copyright 1998. Funderstanding. Accessed 5/3/2007. http://www.funderstanding.com/k12/coaster/

Loop (Roller Coaster). Last modified April 9, 2007. Wikipedia. Accessed 5/3/2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loop_%28roller_coaster)

Pescovitz, David. Roller Coaster Physics. Copyright 1998-1999. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Accessed 5/3/2007. http://search.eb.com/coasters/ride.html

Neumann, Erik. Roller Coaster Physics Simulation. Copyright 2004. MyPhysicsLab. Accessed 5/3/2007. http://www.myphysicslab.com/RollerSimple.html

Contributors

Scott Liddle

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2007 Duke University

Supporting Program

Engineering K-PhD Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Acknowledgements

This content was developed by the MUSIC (Math Understanding through Science Integrated with Curriculum) Program in the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0338262. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: November 7, 2017

Summary

Students explore the physics exploited by engineers in designing today's roller coasters, including potential and kinetic energy, friction and gravity. First, they learn that all true roller coasters are completely driven by the force of gravity and that the conversion between potential and kinetic energy is essential to all roller coasters. Second, they consider the role of friction in slowing down cars in roller coasters. Finally, they examine the acceleration of roller coaster cars as they travel around the track. During the associated activity, students design, build and analyze model roller coasters they make using foam tubing and marbles (as the cars). This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Students explore the most basic physical principles of roller coasters, which are crucial to the initial design process for engineers who create roller coasters. They learn about the possibilities and limitations of roller coasters within the context of energy conservation, frictional losses and other physical principles. After the lesson, students should be able to analyze the motion of any existing gravity-driven coaster and design the basics of their own model roller coasters.

Difficulty
Time RequiredAverage (6-10 days)
PrerequisitesNone
Material Availability Readily available
CostLow ($20 - $50)
SafetyAdult supervision recommended when using utility knife

Abstract

If you'd like to investigate the physics of amusement park rides, then this project is for you. You'll build a roller coaster track for marbles using foam pipe insulation and masking tape, and see how much the marble's potential energy at the beginning of the track is converted to kinetic energy at various points along the track.

Objective

The goal of this project is to build a roller coaster for marbles using foam pipe insulation and to investigate how much of the gravitational potential energy of a marble at the starting point is converted to the kinetic energy of the marble at various points along the track.

Credits

Andrew Olson, Ph.D., Science Buddies

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Roller Coaster Marbles: Converting Potential Energy to Kinetic Energy" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 28 July 2017. Web. 10 Mar. 2018 <https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Phys_p037/physics/roller-coaster-marbles-converting-potential-energy-to-kinetic-energy>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2017, July 28). Roller Coaster Marbles: Converting Potential Energy to Kinetic Energy. Retrieved March 10, 2018 from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Phys_p037/physics/roller-coaster-marbles-converting-potential-energy-to-kinetic-energy



Last edit date: 2017-07-28

Share your story with Science Buddies!

Yes,I Did This Project! Please log in (or create a free account) to let us know how things went.

Are you planning to do a project from Science Buddies?

Come back and tell us about your project using the “I Did This Project” link for the project you choose.

You’ll find a link to “I Did This Project” on every project on the Science Buddies website so don’t forget to share your story!

Got itRemind me later

Introduction

Slow and clanking, the string of cars is pulled up to the crest of the tallest point on the roller coaster. One by one, the cars start downhill on the other side, until gravity takes over and the full weight of the train is careening down into curves, twists, and turns. The roller coaster is a great example of conversions between potential energy (stored energy) and kinetic energy (the energy of motion). As the cars are being pulled up to the top of the first hill, they are acquiring potential energy. The chain that pulls them up the hill works against the force of gravity. At the top of the hill, the cars' potential energy is at it's maximum. When the cars start down the other side, this potential energy is converted to kinetic energy. The cars pick up speed as they go downhill. As the cars go through the next uphill section, they slow down. Some of the kinetic energy is now being converted to potential energy, which will be be released when the cars go down the other side.

Potential energy comes in many forms. For example, chemical energy can be stored and later converted into heat or electricity. In the case of a roller coaster, the stored energy is called "gravitational potential energy," since it is the force of gravity that will convert the potential energy into other forms. The amount of gravitational energy can be calculated from the mass of the object (m, in kg), the height of the object (h, in m), and the gravitational constant (g = 9.8 m/s2). The equation is simply: gravitational potential energy = mgh.

Kinetic energy is the energy of motion. The amount of kinetic energy an object has is determined by both the mass of the object and the velocity at which it is moving. The equation for calculating kinetic energy is: kinetic energy = 1/2 mv2, where m is the mass of the object (in kg) and v is the velocity of the object (in m/s).

You've probably noticed that the first hill on the roller coaster is always the highest (unless the coaster is given another "boost" of energy along the way). This is because not all of the potential energy is converted to kinetic energy. Some of the potential energy is "lost" in other energy conversion processes. For example, the friction of the wheels and other moving parts converts some of the energy to heat. The cars also make noise as they move on the tracks, so some of the energy is dissipated as sound. The cars also cause the supporting structure to flex, bend, and vibrate. This is motion, so it is kinetic energy, but of the track, not the cars. Because some of the potential energy is dissipated to friction, sound, and vibration of the track, the cars cannot possibly have enough kinetic energy to climb back up a hill that is equal in height to the first one. The way that physicists describe this situation is to say that energy is conserved in a closed system like a roller coaster. That is, energy is neither created nor destroyed; there is a balance between energy inputs to the system (raising the train to the top of the initial hill) and energy outputs from the system (the motion of the train, its sound, frictional heating of moving parts, flexing and bending of the track structure, and so on).

You can investigate the conversion of potential energy to kinetic energy with this project. You'll use foam pipe insulation (available at your local hardware store) to make a roller coaster track. For the roller coaster itself, you'll use marbles. By interrupting the track and allowing the marble to continue on a smooth, level surface, you'll measure the velocity of the marble at different points along the track. From the velocity and the mass of the marble, you'll be able to calculate the marble's kinetic energy at the different track locations.

For each track configuration, you should try at least 10 separate tests with the marble to measure the kinetic energy. How much of the marble's gravitational potential energy will be converted to kinetic energy? A foam roller coaster for marbles is easy to build, so try it for yourself and find out!

Terms and Concepts

To do this project, you should do research that enables you to understand the following terms and concepts:

  • Potential energy (stored energy)
  • Kinetic energy (energy of motion)
  • Conservation of energy (basic law of physics)
  • Gravity
  • Velocity
  • Friction
  • Slope (rise/run)

Questions

  • What is the equation for calculating an object's gravitational potential energy?
  • What is the equation for calculating an object's kinetic energy?
  • The marble has its maximum gravitational potential energy when it is at the starting point: the highest point on the roller coaster. How much of this potential energy is converted to the marble's kinetic energy?

Bibliography

  • This short animation explains kinetic energy and potential energy:
    Brain POP Staff. (n.d.). Kinetic Energy. Brain POP Animated Educational Site for Kids. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from http://www.brainpop.com/science/energy/kineticenergy/.
  • Here are some more quantitative explanations of kinetic and potential energy:
    • Henderson, T. (n.d.). Work, Energy, and Power. The Physics Classroom and Mathsoft Engineering & Education, Inc. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from http://www.physicsclassroom.com/Class/energy/u5l1c.html.
    • Nave, C.R. (n.d.). Kinetic Energy. HyperPhysics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Georgia State University. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/ke.html.
    • Nave, C.R. (n.d.). Potential Energy. HyperPhysics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Georgia State University. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/pegrav.html#pe.

News Feed on This Topic

Note: A computerized matching algorithm suggests the above articles. It's not as smart as you are, and it may occasionally give humorous, ridiculous, or even annoying results! Learn more about the News Feed

 

, ,

Materials and Equipment

To do this experiment you will need the following materials and equipment:

  • At least two 6 foot (183 cm) sections of 1-1/2 in (about 4 cm) diameter foam pipe insulation
  • Glass marbles
  • Utility knife
  • Masking tape
  • Tape measure
  • Bookshelf, table, or other support for roller coaster starting point
  • Stopwatch
  • Gram scale for weighing marble, such as the Fast Weigh MS-500-BLK Digital Pocket Scale, 500 by 0.1 G, available from Amazon.com
  • Length of Masonite (smooth hardboard) for marble to travel on (for measuring velocity at different points along the track). You can glue the Masonite into a V-shape, and paint it with alternating stripes at 5 or 10 cm intervals. The V-shape keeps the marble going straight, and the stripes allow you to easily measure the distance the marble has traveled during a timed interval.
  • Optional: video camera and tripod

Remember Your Display Board Supplies

Remember Your Display Board Supplies

Experimental Procedure

Note: use the utility knife with care. A fresh, sharp blade will make cutting the insulation easier.

  1. Do your background research so that you are knowledgeable about the terms, concepts, and questions, above.
  2. Cut the foam pipe insulation in half (the long way) to make two U-shaped channels.
    1. The illustration below shows the foam pipe insulation, end-on.

      The illustration above shows the cross-section at one end of the foam pipe insulation

    2. The insulation comes with one partial cut along the entire length. Complete this cut with the utility knife (yellow circle in the illustration above).
    3. Make a second cut on the other side of the tube (yellow line in the illustration above), along the entire length of the tube.
    4. You'll end up with two separate U-channel foam pieces. You can use masking tape to attach pieces end-to-end to make the roller coaster track as long as you want.
  3. To make a roller coaster track, tape two (or more) lengths of the foam U-channel together, end-to-end. The joint between the two pieces should be as smooth as possible.
  4. You can make the track as simple or as complex as you'd like. You can add curves, loops, and additional uphill and downhill sections. The illustration below shows two examples. You'll find that one requirement is that the starting point be the highest point on the track.

    The illustration above shows two different roller coaster tracks for marbles. How much height is needed at the starting point in order for the marble to loop the loop?

  5. In order to measure the velocity of the marble, you'll need a way to measure how much distance the marble travels during a measured time interval.
    1. A good way to do this is to interrupt the foam track and direct the marble along a smooth, level surface (e.g., two long pieces of Masonite glued in a V-shape). Support the Masonite V (with cardboard, beanbags, etc.) so that it is level with the end of the foam track.
    2. Paint the Masonite with 5 or 10 cm long stripes in contrasting colors (e.g., red and white or black and white) so that you can use it to measure distances.
    3. Use the stopwatch to measure the time it takes for the marble to travel a certain length along the Masonite track.
    4. You can also videotape the marble, and use the measuring stick to measure the distance the marble travels in successive frames (each standard video frame is 1/30 second).
  6. Measure the height of the starting point for the track.
  7. Measure the mass of the marble.
  8. Calculate the gravitational potential energy of the marble at the starting point.
  9. Run a single marble down the track 10 separate times.
    1. For each run, use your striped measuring stick and stopwatch to measure the velocity of the marble as it completes the track.
    2. Calculate the average of your 10 measurements.
    3. More advanced students should also calculate the standard deviation.
  10. From your velocity measurement and the mass of the marble, calculate the kinetic energy of the marble.
  11. Repeat the velocity measurement at various points on the track by cutting the track and allowing the marble to continue on in a straight line on a smooth surface. Use your striped measuring stick and stopwatch to measure the velocity of the marble.
  12. Does the marble's kinetic energy ever equal or exceed its initial gravitational potential energy?

Communicating Your Results: Start Planning Your Display Board

Create an award-winning display board with tips and design ideas from the experts at ArtSkills.



Variations

Here are just a few of many possible variations on this project. Perhaps these will stimulate your thoughts about other experiments you could try:

  • How much kinetic energy is required for various track features? For example, how much kinetic energy is required for a marble to successfully navigate a loop in the track?
  • You can expand the experiment by building a set of roller coaster tracks with various loop sizes. How does the kinetic energy requirement change when the loop diameter increases? How does the kinetic energy requirement change when the loop diameter decreases?
  • If you can find spheres that have equal diameter but made from different materials, you could investigate how the mass of the sphere affects how well it travels along the track.
  • Maybe you noticed that your loop wobbles a bit as your marble passes through it. The energy to move the track comes from the marble. The energy that the marble loses to make the track move means less energy is available to make the marble itself move. Can you think of a way to stabilize the loop so that it doesn't wobble? Does the marble have more kinetic energy after exiting the stabilized loop? Design an experiment to find out!
  • Try using different lengths of roller coaster track so that you can adjust the initial slope of the track. Keep the starting height the same, but change the slope by adding additional track length. (Remember, slope is rise/run, so you'll be holding the "rise" constant, and gradually increasing the "run.") How do you think the kinetic energy of the marble will change as you change the slope of the track?
  • For a more basic version of this experiment, see the Science Buddies project Roller Coaster Marbles: How Much Height to Loop the Loop?.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

Yes,I Did This Project! Please log in (or create a free account) to let us know how things went.

Ask an Expert

The Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Ask an Expert

Related Links

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

Mechanical Engineer

Mechanical engineers are part of your everyday life, designing the spoon you used to eat your breakfast, your breakfast's packaging, the flip-top cap on your toothpaste tube, the zipper on your jacket, the car, bike, or bus you took to school, the chair you sat in, the door handle you grasped and the hinges it opened on, and the ballpoint pen you used to take your test. Virtually every object that you see around you has passed through the hands of a mechanical engineer. Consequently, their skills are in demand to design millions of different products in almost every type of industry. Read more

Mechanical Engineering Technician

You use mechanical devices every day—to zip and snap your clothing, open doors, refrigerate and cook your food, get clean water, heat your home, play music, surf the Internet, travel around, and even to brush your teeth. Virtually every object that you see around has been mechanically engineered or designed at some point, requiring the skills of mechanical engineering technicians to create drawings of the product, or to build and test models of the product to find the best design. Read more

News Feed on This Topic

Note: A computerized matching algorithm suggests the above articles. It's not as smart as you are, and it may occasionally give humorous, ridiculous, or even annoying results! Learn more about the News Feed

 

, ,

Looking for more science fun?

Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.

Find an Activity

Thank you for your feedback!

0 Replies to “Roller Coaster Physics Coursework Ideas”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *