Give Your Teacher (or Students) some Thrills

The science behind amusement park fun

Well, if we can't be at amusement parks or theme parks riding roller coasters, at least we can study about them in the classroom.

Amusement park rides are grand examples of physics principles in action. With extreme rides more popular than ever, terms like G-forces, acceleration, and centrifugal force have seeped into our everyday lingo. Because students enjoy attractions like coasters and freefall towers, they are motivated to explore the scientific concepts that enable rides to deliver white-knuckle thrills in a safe environment.

The following sites use text, photos, animation, hands-on activities, and other tools to help users understand the science behind the thrills:

Amusement Park Physics
Learn about the forces that make rides like carousels, swing rides, bumper cars, and freefall towers so much fun. Includes an interactive presentation to design a roller coaster.

Amuse Me: Theme Park Physics
The high school students that developed this excellent site were finalists in the ThinkQuest Internet Challenge. They demonstrate the roles that laws such as gravitational forces, vertical and horizontal acceleration, drag, and friction play in rides like Ferris wheels and roller coasters. Includes teacher labs, amusement park and ride history, and--stay alert!--a final exam.

Physics of Roller Coasters
Coaster aficionado David Sandborg delves into the G-forces, constrained falls, and other physics concepts that ride designers need to consider when they build scream machines. On the Coaster Enthusiasts of Canada site.

Splash of Math
The folks that run the Sea World and Busch Gardens parks have a series of free, downloadable teachers' guides on a variety of subjects including this math-oriented guide designed for grades four to eight. Includes goals and objectives, information, vocabulary, a bibliography, and classroom activities.