Thursday, 28 April 2016

Rollercoaster Physics - that DOESN'T take weeks to complete!

I'm sure you've seen those paper rollercoasters that some students make  - they're about a meter high and have all sorts of turns and loops.  Pretty neat - but who has the time?!  

Not I.

So instead of spending weeks sitting and waiting while my students cut colorful cardstock and glue and tape I do a version that only takes a couple of days to complete and is far more rigorous in terms of the Physics calculations.



After doing some research (like going to Canada's Wonderland) the students sketch out a rollercoaster ride that they would love!  Once they've got a nice shape that loops back to the beginning they need to come up with the dimensions for this rollercoaster.  




They'll do all sorts of calculations, but need to make sure that the rollercoaster meets certain restrictions:
-Max speed between 135 and 150 km/h.
-At least two hills – one high hill and one no higher than half the height of the other.
-A power calculation showing the power required to pull a 12000 kg train up the first hill.
-A calculation to show the deceleration of the train in no more than 10.0 m.  (They’ll have to determine the initial speed)
-A work calculation to show the work done by the brakes to slow the train to a stop in no more than 10.0 m at the end of the ride. 
-Optional: (Level 4) Includes a loop where the rider feels 2-4 gs.
-An obvious theme.
-A title.




To put it all together in a neat presentation, here's how the students layer their rollercoasters to show all the different features and calculations.
Layer 1: White board
Draw the rollercoaster to scale.
Layer 2: Plastic (clear drop cloth for painting or dollar store shower curtain works well)
Label the heights of all hills and loops.  Label all speeds at the top and bottom of hills and loops.  Label the power, deceleration and work as listed in parts 3, 4 and 5.
Layer 3: Plastic
Show all calculations for speeds, power, deceleration, work.
Layer 4: Plastic, optional
Any other cool design features, scenery, additional awesomeness.



These student came up with such great themes, drew everything to scale, calculated velocities, energies, work and power, made sure that the riders wouldn't experience too much speed or g-forces and added incredible design details - all in TWO 75-minute periods of class time!


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