ScienceWorks: The Ups and Downs of Roller Coaster Physics (4th-6th)
Students will experiment with momentum, kinetic and potential energy by building roller coasters in teams. Let the forces of physics take you for a ride! Register today!
Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations, Science v.1.09
- Demonstrate scientific concepts through various illustrations, performances, models, exhibits and activities. (S.RS.04.11)
- Distinguish between contact forces and non-contact forces. (P.FM.05.21)
- Demonstrate contact and non-contact forces to change the motion of an object. (P.FM.05.22)
- Identify kinetic or potential energy in everyday situations (for example: stretched rubber band, objects in motion, ball on a hill, food energy). (P.EN.06.11)
- Demonstrate the transformation between potential and kinetic energy in simple mechanical systems (for example: roller coasters, pendulums). (P.EN.06.12)
The Ups and Downs of Roller Coaster Physics Pre-visit Materials
During Your Visit to the ScienceWorks Lab students will be expected to:
- Sit in tables of 6 students and (at least) 1 adult
- Students should be prepared to give their attention to the Lab instructors when requested to “Give Me Five”
- Work cooperatively with one another at the table
- Follow the hands-on procedures just as the Lab teacher or assistant explains them
- Handle materials and equipment carefully
It is important that teachers and chaperones:
- Help to focus the students’ attention
- Assist students with the hands-on activities and experiments when necessary
- Turn off cell phones and pagers during the class
Physics: The science of matter and its motion, as well as space and time; the science that deals with concepts such as force, energy, mass and charge.
Momentum: The product of mass and velocity of an object; a conserved quantity, meaning that the total momentum of any closed system (one not affected by external forces) cannot change.
Potential Energy: Energy stored within a physical system. This energy can be released or converted into other forms of energy, including kinetic energy. It is called potential energy because it has the potential to change the states of objects in the system when the energy is released.
Kinetic Energy: The extra energy, which an object possesses due to its motion; the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its current velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes.
The Ups and Downs of Roller Coaster Physics Post-visit Activity
Post-visit activities provide your students with an opportunity to review workshop-presented concepts and introduce related subjects. Below you will find a classroom extension activity and a list of suggested resources for further exploration. We hope that you enjoyed our Outreach Hands-On Workshop and we look forward to visiting your students again!
Hands-on Activity: Flying High
- 2 Golf balls
- 2 Tennis balls
- 2 Basketballs
- Outdoor space
This is a great demonstration for illustrating the principle of conservation of momentum. Take your class outside and ask if they know what momentum is. Explain that momentum is equal to the mass times the velocity of an object. The law of conservation says that if two (or more) objects collide, the total momentum before the collision must be equal to the total momentum after, not taking into consideration principles like gravity and friction. For the demonstration, first stack the two basketballs on top of each other and drop them as one. Observe what happens. Now, hold the tennis ball on top of the basketball and repeat. Be careful that nothing is in line with the tennis ball. Here, you’ll notice that the tennis ball travels a good distance higher than the drop point.
Try different combinations to see if you can maximize the height. To understand what’s going on, explain that the total mass of your two objects can be thought of as one larger object falling at a specific velocity. When they hit the ground, the top one bounces off the bottom one. The small one soars because you’ve suddenly removed most of the mass. As a result, the velocity must increase in order to compensate.
Example: Imagine you have a 10 pound ball and a 1 pound ball stacked and falling at 10 meters per second hit the ground. The 10 pound ball isn’t elastic enough to bounce at all. What velocity will the 1 pound ball now have? Your total initial mass = 11 pounds. So, set up your equation like this: 11lb × 10m/s = 1lb × vm/s (where v = the unknown velocity). If you solve for v, you should get 110m/s! This is about third the velocity of sound! Of course, in the real world, the heavy ball bounces a little and a lot of energy is lost in the process.
Mason, Paul. Roller Coaster! (Raintree Fusion: Motion and Accelleration). Raintree. 2006.
Branley, Franklyn M. and Edward Miller. Gravity is a Mystery. Collins. 2007.
Prasad, Kamal and Aurore Simonnet. Why Can’t I Jump Very High? A Book About Gravity. Science Square Publishing. 2004.
Usborne Books. Illustrated Dictionary of Physics. Usborne Books. 2000.