Amusement Park Science

Barbara J. Feldman

It’s summertime and we’re taking a virtual trip to the amusement park. But on this trip we’re combing fun and thrills with science, as we take a look at the physics behind your favorite theme park rides.

  • Amuse Me: Theme Park Physics4 stars

    This ThinkQuest 2000 entry was created by a team of middle-school students from Virginia Beach. At first I had some difficulty navigating the menu, until I realized I needed to point my mouse either directly above or below each menu title, and not directly on the menu item itself. Best sections are Rides (where you'll learn a bit about the physics of seven different amusement park rides) and Other (which includes a Glossary and a page on the Applications of Physics.)

  • Amusement Park Physics4 stars

    The color scheme here is a bit hard to read, but if you persevere, you'll be rewarded with six science experiments to perform on amusement park rides, and two experiments for your local playground. Before embarking on this fun adventure, however, you will need a few tools: a stopwatch, and a vertical and horizontal accelerometer to measure acceleration. Luckily, simple instructions are provided on how to make your own accelerometers.

  • Funderstanding Roller Coasters5 stars

    This Java-based roller coaster simulation lets you design a ride to "achieve maximum thrills and chills without crashing or flying off the track (unless that's how you like your coaster to work!)" You can vary the height of the hills, the size of the loop, the initial speed of the coaster, and its mass. Scroll down the page for explanations of the science behind the thrill. If you have any trouble with the applet, try reloading another copy into memory by hitting browser refresh.

  • Internet Fairground5 stars

    Internet Fairground is another ThinkQuest entry (a 2000 silver-medal winner) created by three geographically disperse high-school students. It is a fun potpourri of amusement park tidbits, including the history of the Ferris wheel, roller coaster and carousel; ride reviews; and safety considerations. You'll find high-school level physics and math lessons listed under Science, with a section on using the Lego programmable brick, and Interactive Math Problems (listed under the Physics Lab.) "While screaming at the top of the first loop of a roller coaster, your gum falls out of your mouth. Which direction does it fall?"

  • Physics of Amusement Parks5 stars

    Study the physics of falling, floating, and turning with animated lessons at my pick-of-the-day site from the Japan Virtual Science Center. Although all the sections are fabulous, my favorite was Thrills & Safety where I learned about clothoid curves in roller coasters and everyday life. Coney Island build the first circular loop-the-loop coaster in 1895. It's since been discovered that the elliptical shape of the clothoid curve causes fewer whiplash injuries because the increase in gravitational force is not as sudden. Complete your visit by taking the Physics Challenge Quiz.

  • Honorable Mentions

    The following links are either new discoveries or sites that didn't make it into my newspaper column because of space constraints. Enjoy!


    Cite This Page

  • Feldman, Barbara. "Amusement Park Science." Surfnetkids. Feldman Publishing. 21 Aug. 2002. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <http://www.surfnetkids.com/resources/amusementpark/ >.


  • About This Page

  • By . Originally published August 21, 2002. Last modified July 10, 2014.

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