There’s no doubt about it, roller coasters rock! But what causes them to jet around loops and over hills at super speed without an engine? Here comes the science bit! Roller coasters are powered when potential energy is converted into kinetic energy, causing the roller coaster to move rapidly. You may have noticed that roller coasters need an initial helping hand, by way of a mechanical chain pulling them up the first big hill. Potential energy is the result of gravity pulling downwards and as the roller coaster is pulled up the first hill, it builds up this potential energy. The picture below shows a simple explanation, where the brick on the right has the potential to fall to the floor due to the pull of gravity.
As soon as the roller coaster goes over the top of the first hill and starts to hurtle downwards, gravity takes over and all of this potential energy is turned into kinetic energy. As the energy is built up on the climb to the top of the hill, it is released on the way back down and enough energy is produced to boost the roller coaster all the way to the end of the ride. It becomes slower at certain points during the ride due to all the loops, hills and turns which take away some of this kinetic energy. Friction between the wheels and the track, as well as air resistance, also take away this kinetic energy and help bring the ride to a stop. If you’re a bit of thrill seeker, why not click here to learn all about water slides too!
If you’d like to make your own mini roller coaster at home, here are some of the materials you’ll need:
-Toilet paper roll, wrapping paper tubes, insulation tubes
-A variety of balls (try different sizes and weights)
Guide to build a roller coaster here.
Feeling a little bit more adventurous? Here’s an awesome backyard roller coaster: