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How The Laws of Physics Apply to a Working of a Roller Coaster

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We must first break down the body being discussed into its components in order to understand what makes it function. A roller coaster is a body made of materials that is being moved either by a certain force or by gravity at certain points. We must analyse the movement of the body. The rollercoaster moves through loops and through downhills and uphills. Moreover, it has flast areas as well.

Newton’s Laws of Motion

At the initial start of the motion, Newton’s First law applies. It states “An object will remain at rest or in a uniform state of motion unless that state is changed by an external force.” This works in the sense that at the start of the roller coaster the body is completely at rest and this signifies the inertia of rest. An external force causes the body to lose inertia of rest and thus the body will move with a constant state of motion. This is affected when the force of gravity acts on the machine as it is going down.

The Second rule states “Force is equal to the change in momentum (mass times velocity) over time. In other words, the rate of change is directly proportional to the amount of force applied.”




Coaster cars and your body have mass. Gravity exerts a force on that mass, which can then cause it to accelerate. The rider feels that force as one moves along the coaster track. The track directs this force on the cars as you race along. The mass of the cars and your body are a constant, thus remain the same from start to finish. The amount of force a rider experiences, varies only with the acceleration of the cars along the track. As the roller coaster speeds up (positive acceleration) racing downhill or turning abruptly, the amount of force a rider fells increases. As the roller coaster slows down (deceleration) due to friction between the wheels and the track or air rushing by, the forces a rider feels ease off.

Variables an engineer might consider to change the force experienced by the rider include, heightening the coaster, added loops, and sharp turns or increasing the mass of the cars. Regardless of the coaster design aspects or variables one may consider, all of these variables fall into the category of acceleration or mass when calculating the force experienced by a rider.

Therefore the engineers behind the building of the track must understand the difficulties of building a higher hill as well as must be able to estimate the velocity at which it will move down the hill. The mass of the people onboard varies from ride from ride and thus the force produced will vary from ride to ride.

In certain situations friction acts as the force. When it comes to stopping the roller coaster there is a certain force that comes to play and thus why friction must overcome the force pushing the roller coaster. Magnets on the train induce eddy currents in the braking fins, giving a smooth rise in braking force as the remaining kinetic energy is absorbed by the brakes and converted to thermal energy.

Furthermore, Newton’s Third Law states that “For every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. This implies as the rollercoaster is moving forward there is an opposite force moving backward. This force can be the force of gravity when the roller coaster is moving down then there is an equal and opposite body pushing the body upwards. The forces don’t cancel each other and act on different bodies. The force of gravity acts on the roller coaster while the opposite reaction force acts on the track.

The three laws of Newton apply to the functioning of the roller coaster and all in different situations. All in all they work simultaneously to ensure that the machine is efficient and smoothly running for the years to come. The mechanics behind the proper working of a roller coaster is mainly based on the laws of Newton but there are other laws that come into play when it comes to the running of it.


Apart from this forces, centripetal force acts on the roller coaster. When the roller coaster is going in a loop a certain force pushes the body towards the centre. This centripetal force applies the Newton’s second law of motion as the acceleration of the body enables it to go around the loop. For the body to around the loop several times, it requires an increase in acceleration.

Laws of Energy and Momentum

There is the rule of Conservation of Energy which states that “principle of Physics according to which the energy of interacting bodies or particles in a closed system remains constant.” This occurs as the roller coaster moves up the hill of the track it accumulates potential energy and loses kinetic energy. At the top of the hill, the potential energy is at a maximum while the kinetic energy is zero. As the body moves down the track the kinetic energy starts increasing while the potential energy reduces and at the bottom of the track the kinetic energy is at maximum.

In the whole mechanism there is a complete conservation of energy and the total energy remains constant throughout the whole motion. This law is important as the kinetic energy is important for the movement of the body down the track.

In addition to the stated laws, there is also the Conservation of Momemtum which states “ In a collision, the momentum change of an object is equal to and opposite of the momentum change of another object and thus the momentum is conserved.” This applies to roller coaster in the sense that the momentum of the roller coaster is equal and opposite to the momentum of the pulleys that push the roller coaster.


In conclusion, the working and functioning of a roller coaster is a simple yet complex concept. It’s simple in the fact that the running of the machine is not as difficult as long as all the laws work simultaneously. Moreover, it is complex in the sense that a certain law can not apply to a certain situation and that without one law the roller coaster will not properly function.

The future evolution of roller coaster is inevitable. The efficiency of the movement of the roller coaster will be enhanced by increasing the velocity. Furthermore, the stopping mechanism will be taken into account for the faster moving body. As more laws of Physics are discovered in the near future then there is a possibility that they can be applied to the working of a roller coaster. 


  • ThoughtCo. (n.d ) Introduction to major laws of Physics Available at:
  • Daniel.W (2014) How do roller coasters use the law of conservation? Available at:
  • Pendrill. A( n.d) Stopping a Roller Coaster Train. Available at:
  • Roller Coaster Ride (n.d) The Main Idea: Newton’s Second Law Available at:
  • Weather. M (2014) December Roller Coaster Available at: 

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