Introduction to the Science of Roller Coasters
This blog is intended to be a resource for those following along with Worlds of Fun’s live stream presentation with the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center via Facebook (April 7, 2020). The following is primarily intended for a younger audience, but you do not have to be less than 42” to read.
Quick Facts About Roller Coasters
Before we dive into the science of roller coasters and how they work, here are some quick facts worth noting:
- Over 2,400 roller coasters exist in the world today. Worlds of Fun is home to seven of them.
- Amusement parks and roller coasters are among the safest forms of recreation.
- Approximately 370 million guests enjoyed 1.7 billion rides in North America in 2017.
- There are primarily two types of roller coasters: steel and wooden. However, there are 37 different variations or types of roller coasters, including hyper-coasters, inverted roller coasters and spinning roller coasters.
The Science of Roller Coasters
While today’s roller coasters are sophisticated machines, they all use basic principles of science to operate. This basic science is known as physics, which is basically the study of how things move.
Most roller coaster rides begin with a lift hill, where a chain connects with the train and carries the riders to the first and tallest incline. As you reach the crest of the hill, the chain pushes the train over the hill. Gravity takes over and pulls the train down the hill into a controlled free fall.
Using its weight and wheels, the train picks up enough kinetic energy (speed and momentum) to complete your journey through the track. Different types of brakes are used to stop the train at the end of a ride. These brakes use friction to slow down and stop a roller coaster’s momentum by converting the train’s kinetic energy into heat energy.
For example, roller coasters are kind of like riding your bike down a hill. You use the pedals to move a chain that makes your wheels move and climb the hill. On your way down, your bike picks up speed and momentum, and you use your brakes to control your speed and to slow down.
Roller Coaster Challenge
Now it’s time for some fun. Worlds of Fun would like to challenge you to create your own virtual roller coaster experience.
- Visit Youtube on your mobile device or open the Youtube app on your TV.
- Place a couple of chairs in front (two by two works best).
- Some parents with little kids use laundry baskets. Please exercise caution if you're holding it.
- Go to Worlds of Fun's YouTube Channel and visit our Roller Coaster Video (POV) Playlist.
- Choose your ride, and hit play!
- If you have a VR headset, load the video up on your phone or gaming system to enjoy an even more immersive ride experience!
Be sure to capture your experience on video and share it by tagging Worlds of Fun on social media for a chance to be highlighted on our channels!
Regardless if you love them or are afraid of them, we hope that this brief introduction to the history and science behind roller coasters gives you a new appreciation for these scream machines.