General roller coaster research

Hey guys

Well, I'm currently doing a research project for college. It'sbasically all about the physics for rollercoasters, and to be honest,i've hit a dead end. I can't seem to find much info on the physics sideof coasters, other than what wikipedia has provided. Does anyone knowof any books /

I look forward to reading your replies!

(Sorry if this is in the wrong section, but I didn't know where else to put it )

f = ma

I can has signature?

ApolloAndy's avatar

Dave althoff's site has some really interesting articles about LIM's and train arrangements.

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

janfrederick's avatar

Just be sure to have someone proof read your paper! ;)

That's surprising actually (lack of content on the Web). Hundreds of thousands of high-school students perform basic physics experiments at parks during Physics Days.
Anyway, sounds like you'll want to touch on friction, aerodynamics, inertia, etc. Have fun!

"I go out at 3 o' clock for a quart of milk and come home to my son treating his body like an amusement park!" - Estelle Costanza

The American Roller Coaster by Scott Rutherford

Many of the books written about the science of coasters are geared to a junior high audience. I guess it provides some interest to a subject that a lot of kids that age would start tuning out on.

Acoustic Viscosity's avatar

Ignoring friction...

PE1 + KE1 = PE2 + KE2

PE = Potential Energy (at point 1 or 2)
KE = Kinetic Energy (at point 1 or 2)

PE = mg
KE = 1/2mV^2


AV Matt
Long live the Big Bad Wolf

Af for research on a college level, where's Profesor Noble when you need him?

Coaster Junkie from NH
I drive in & out of Boston, so I ride coasters to relax!

Trouble is, when you start talking Physics, roller coasters are just like anything else. It's a system where Newtonian mechanics work pretty well, so you're looking at classical Physics for the complete system (F=ma and all the variations thereof) and for the subsystems.

Where things get a little weird is if you start taking into consideration wind effects (where the cross sectional area of the train becomes important) and wheel losses, particularly on a ride that has polyurethane or nylon wheels. A certain amount of energy goes into deforming the tires, and that is going to have an effect on the system. That's also when you have to start considering the mass of the train.

But it is all classical mechanics. If you want to study the physics of a roller coaster, start by identifying what forces and actions are at play, then model the part of the system you are studying in terms of the classical mechanics (free-body diagrams, vector resolution, all that sort of thing). Then once you have the prototypical model built, you can test it by plugging in some data and reapplying the model to the real world and see if it matches what you thought you knew.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

Acoustic Viscosity's avatar

Trust me kids, if what Dave just said scared the crap out of you, don't go to school to be an engineer. I am an engineer and I still dread detailed physics.

AV Matt
Long live the Big Bad Wolf

Those three links are a good start about roller coaster dynamics written by a mechanical engineering professor for I believe an ACE magazine. If your an engineering student than should be able to read through this material and hopefully use some of it for a paper.

Some other links that might be of some help:

The link above is a more mathematical discussion about space curves and roller coaster physics using mathematica which might help for your paper. I remember reading in a forum that GCI in part of there design process uses a mathematics software (Maple) to do some of the differential calculus.

The link above is to someones master thesis on roller coaster kinematics and dynamics and apparently she did some simulation work also. Alot of matterial to read through, but it is a good discussion on the physics and mathematics that go into it.

The other good resource that I printed out but can't find it on the web anymore, is an article title "Improving Roller Coaster Design with Virtual Prototyping" It was written by Ned Hansen, at the time an engineer for S&S and highlighted the software they use, heartlining, smoothing transitions, etc.

Anyway sure there are more resources out there that discuss roller coaster physics and design in a more technical manner, but these should get you started.

Last edited by Beast Fan,

Kasc, first, good luck with the research, and second, if you were able to get real answers on the forum then your alreday going in the right direction. This place is usually known for anything but a helpful hand, at least from my reading experiences.

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