You squeeze into the molded plastic seat and pull the padded bars down so they fit snug against your shoulders. The attendant comes by and pushes on the bars to make sure they are locked into place. Then the cars of the roller coaster begin to move out of the station, going up and up, until you feel that you can touch the sky. Suddenly, with a lurch, your car reaches the top. As it crests the hill and starts down the other side, you can feel it begin to pick up speed. Now you are flying down the track, up smaller hills, through loop-de-loops, upside down and twisting all around. You scream as the roller coaster rounds a curve in the track and you are pushed to one side. Finally, the coaster begins to slow down. It comes to a stop back at the station, and you are released. What a ride! If you like to ride roller coasters, the description above probably sounds familiar.
Did you know that roller coasters aren't just thrill rides? Actually, roller coasters are examples of the laws of physics in operation. Roller coasters are pulled to the top of the highest hill and released. A coaster has potential energy as it is pulled to the top, then changes to kinetic energy as the coaster begins its descent. Gravity and friction control the rest of the ride. Why don't the cars of a roller coaster fly off the track? Why don't the passengers fly out of the cars? How high can the first hill of a roller coaster be? What laws of physics will determine how many hills, curves, and loops a roller coaster track can have? You can find answers to these questions in this WebQuest.
Your job in this WebQuest is to find out how roller coasters work and use this information to build a simple virtual model of a roller coaster. You will learn about roller coaster design, velocity and acceleration and the laws of motion. You will use the Web sites to design virtual roller coaster tracks and to see what happens to the roller coaster when you change variables such as height of hills, length of track, mass of the coaster, and speed of the coaster.
• Research roller coasters to identify variables that affect roller coaster design.
• Identify the physical laws, such as Newton’s Laws of Motion, that govern roller coaster design.