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Included in this site is different activities that you will do so that you can learn more about speed and roller coasters. Click on a problem below and then do the corresponding activity.

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What is speed?

Speed is the measure of how much distance is covered in a certain amount of time. The formula for speed is s = d/t, where "s" is speed, "d" is distance, and "t" is time ("/" is the symbol that means "divided by"). The formula shows the relationship between speed, distance, and time. If you walk at your normal pace (speed), you will cover a certain distance in 5 seconds. If you walk faster you will cover a longer distance, and if you walk a slower pace, you will cover a shorter distance. If you walk a faster pace you will take a shorter amount of time to cover a certain distance, and if you walk a slower pace it will take you a longer time to cover that distance. Go ahead and try it. All you need is a watch, a meter stick and your legs.

Does speed stay the same while riding a roller coaster?

If you have experienced riding a roller coaster you know that the speed definitely changes, otherwise it would be an extremely boring ride! Why does speed change on a roller coaster? Different forces can cause speed to increase or decrease. When you go down a decline, what happens to the speed? What force causes that? When a car goes up an incline, what happens to the speed? What force causes that? What happens to the speed of the cars at the end of the coaster compared to the beginning? What force causes the cars to eventually slow down?


Problem: Why are some roller coasters faster than others?

Collect Information : Did you ever wonder why some roller coasters can go faster than others? In this activity you will look at data from actual roller coasters to determine why some coasters (the standard coaster that is pulled up by a chain and it goes in a complete circuit) are faster than others. Before you continue make sure that you are familiar with the names of the different parts of the roller coaster. Then open up the roller coaster database. You now have a database on 5 real roller coasters: Medussa, Goliath, Millenium Force, GhostRider, and Top Gun. You must click the link for each coaster, which will take you to the coaster's web site. Search for the data (top speed, lift height, etc.) which might be in a data table or somewhere else on the page (don't give up quickly, be patient and look around the page). Once you see the data you are looking for, fill in the data into your database. Make sure you save the database to your H: (home) drive frequently.

Hypothesis: After looking at the data predict what factor (track length, lift height, or ride time) determines if a coaster is faster or slower. Type in your hypothesis underneath your database.

Procedure:
1. Highlight the whole database by clicking on the "coaster (link)" and then hold the mouse button to highlight the rest of the cell. (See below).

2. Next go to the toolbar and select "Data" and then "Sort".

3. Next a window pops up. Where it says "sort by" select "speed (mile/hour). The ascending button is already preselect. This means it will ascend from the lowest speed to the highest speed.

4. Now look at your table. The data has been sorted.

Analysis/Conclusion

Look at the data closely. What do you notice about the lift height, track length, and the ride time when the speed goes from the lowest to the highest? Write an answer to the problem, based on the data that you collected and sorted. Be sure to write down the important data (measurements) that led you to your answer. Write your answer underneath your hypothesis. Was your hypothesis correct or not? Explain in complete sentences.

Test Your Ideas

So do you think you know why some coasters go faster than others? Go to test your ideas on the funderstanding roller coaster. This is a roller coaster simulation (be patient, it takes a while to load). To test your ideas, change the height of hill 1 by moving the button from - to +. Press the play (>) button. Press the stop button when the car gets to the bottom of the hill. Record the coaster's speed. Lower or raise the height of hill 1 and do the same thing. What happens to the speed?

You can also open up the Roller Coaster Tycoon video of a coaster that shows the speed of the cars as it goes through the various parts of the coaster path.

Stop: Reflect on what you learned.
In your Project Roller Coaster Notebook/Journal, fill in the entry for Journal Entry #1.

 

Problem: Where are the fastest parts of the roller coaster? the slowest?

Collect Information: As you know, the speed changes as a car goes through a roller coaster. You have also investigated that some roller coasters can have a top speed that is higher than other roller coasters. That top speed is only takes place at a small segment of the track. Where is that section?

Hypothesis: Predict what part of the roller coaster has the top speed. Then predict what part of the roller coaster would have a low speed (download handout pdf or word).

Procedure:
You will construct a mini roller coaster using copper pipe insulation tubing, a marble, plastic cups, and masking tape.

1. Take 2 pieces of copper pipe insulation tubing, and make a mini-coaster that has 2 declines, 1 incline, 1 dip, 1 camel back, and 1 straight-away. Do not place masking tape on the track, because it will affect the speed of the marble. See picture below.

2. Measure a 20 cm segment in the middle of the first decline. Mark the beginning by inserting 2 toothpicks on both sides of the track. Do the same for the end of the 20 cm. See picture below.

3. Place the marble at the beginning of the track. Let the marble go. Start the stopwatch when the marble enters the first toothpick gate, and then stop the time when it goes through the second gate. Record the time into the data table.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, this time in the dip section.

5. Repeat steps 2 and 3, this time in the middle of the incline section.

6. Repeat steps 2 and 3, this time in the camel back section.

7. Repeat steps 2 and 3, this time in the middle of the 2nd decline section.

8. Repeat steps 2 and 3, this time in the last straight away.

Analysis/Conclusion:
Calculate the speed (using the formula for speed) of the marble for each section. Now look at your data closely. Which part of the coaster has the highest speed? Which part of the coaster has lower speeds? Write a final answer to the problem. Was your hypothesis correct or not? Why is that spot so fast (forces?)? Why is the slowest part slow? Explain using complete sentences, and make sure you write down data that led you to your answer.

Test Your Ideas:
So do you think you know where the top speed is on a roller coaster? Go to the funderstanding roller coaster to test your ideas. Without changing any of the settings, start the coaster and stop it at the different parts of the coaster. What are the speeds in each part?

Stop: Reflect on what you learned.
In your Project Roller Coaster Notebook/Journal, fill in the entry for Journal Entry #2.