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Thrills and Chills Without the Spills

Roller Coaster Physics for Middle School Students

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Take the Challenge:  Design and build a roller coaster that creates thrills and chills without the spills!

We spend millions of dollars on safety to ensure that cars, bicycles and even baby carriages move safely.  At the same time, we spend millions of dollars on rides that shake us up and threaten to send us spinning off into the air.  In fact, roller coasters are far safer than driving in traffic or flying.  How do roller coaster designers keep riders from falling out and cars on the track, even when the cars are upside down? What forces are involved?  Which materials produce greater or fewer vibrations?  Which existing roller coasters are the safest?  The fastest?  How many loops can a roller coaster have? 

Come find out from the experts.  Then design your own model roller coaster, test it in a virtual amusement park, build a working scale model and test it against other student-designed roller coasters.  The purpose of this project is to determine a construction material and track design for building a model roller coaster that combines speed with safety.  Your task is to experiment with materials and roller coaster shapes to determine the best design for a speedy and safe coaster ride.  The safety of the design is determined by how well the coaster (a standard glass marble) remains on the track and whether or not it “harms” the tissue placed at the end of the track! 

      This project encompasses three main activities: 

  • a scavenger hunt covering many different facts about roller coasters, 
  • an experiment to determine the best materials and design for speed, where participants all build a one hill roller coaster model with identical measurements, and 
  • an on-line competition to determine which material and roller coaster design produces the most thrills with the least spills.  Materials used should be generally available items. 
Interested in participating? Please Read This First to see all the project requirements.  To register for this project, click here.  In order to participate in this project, participants must be committed to supplying ALL of the REQUIRED information.
Created by Anita Adamopoulos, Anne Barron, Marlene Lederman, and Elaine Machtiger in conjunction with  CIESE at Stevens Institute of Technology ( with support through an Eisenhower Professional Development Program that is administered by the NJ State Dept. of Education) and New Brunswick Public Schools. Thrills and Chills Without the Spills!! Many thanks to Paul Byrnes.  All Rights Reserved.