University of Calgary

Rollercoasterology

UToday HomeMay 24, 2012

About 1,200 Calgary and area students will explore the physics behind the rides at Calaway Park, including Vortex, Ocean Motion, Dream Machine, Free Fallin', and Cosmic Spin. Photo by David Fairbanks About 1,200 junior high and high school science students will head to Calaway Park tomorrow to take a few rides and learn a lot about physics.

Organized by the Department of Physics and Astronomy (PHAS) at the University of Calgary in partnership with the amusement park, just west of Calgary, the annual Rollercoasterology event helps science teachers get their students excited about physics.

The students go on the rides and study the math, forces, and physics of the amusement park rides with the help of Rollercoasterology workbooks, written by Dr. Phil Langill, an instructor in the physics and astronomy department.

“The students have a ball on the rides, and then they make simple measurements and use the workbooks to figure out the physics that makes the machines actually work,” he says. “It is the best field trip ever, for them and for us.”

Langill and a crew of volunteers from the department help guide the students through the workbook exercises, and take part in a few rides themselves. The junior high workbook covers the concepts of simple machines, forces, and geometry, and the senior high workbook explores Newton's laws, acceleration, and energy. The workbooks analyze various rides at Calaway Park ride, including Vortex, Ocean Motion, Dream Machine, Free Fallin', and Cosmic Spin.

“It’s a really fun day,” he says. “And we hope it gets more than a few kids thinking about going into chemistry, physics, or engineering.”