Roller Coaster Science: Thrills, Chills, and Physics
06/19/15See Comments Features
The first roller coaster at Coney Island, which opened in June 1884, would barely rate in the kiddie section of a modern-day amusement park. The “Switchback Railway” trundled along at just six miles per hour over a series of gentle hills.
Nowadays, roller coasters can put you through loop-de-loops, send you screaming up 38 stories to momentarily rise up free of gravity, and even hang you from a shoulder harness, limbs a-dangle, shooting through corkscrews and switchbacks and cobra turns, with your life in the hands of engineering. Arguably, no other leisure activity makes physics quite so visceral as the roller coaster. Here’s a quick breakdown of the forces that cause your stomach to drop—and keep you in your seat.