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There are millions who flock to amusement parks each year, with many willing to wait in line for hours just to get on a ride lasting for a matter of minutes. It might be the tendency to take risks or the rush of adrenaline we get when we subject ourselves to the forces of such rides that explains this phenomenon. The twists, turns, and loops typical of amusement park rides push and pull our bodies this way and that way, yet this feeling is what we love about roller coasters. It’s not everyday that we get to be upside down. Newton’s Laws help us understand why we feel the way we do throughout an amusement park ride, and we will focus on one particular ride at Knott’s Berry Farm: Silver Bullet, an inverted roller coaster that lasts for 2 minutes and 10 seconds with a track length of 3,125 feet and a maximum speed of 55 mph.
Newton’s First Law states that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by outside forces. The roller coaster train doesn’t move unless it is brought up to the top of a loop. This law can be seen when my body kept moving forward as the ride quickly came to a stop. For this reason, the safety restraints are necessary. Examples of such outside forces are the inversions of Silver Bullet: the loops, the turns, the rolls, the twists. One of the six inversions was the vertical loop. Thanks to inertia, I was able to stay in my seat while I was upside down. A roller coaster often changes direction with the tracks and causes us to experience various sensations, but inertia tries to keep our bodies moving in a straight line.
Newton’s Second Law indicates that the acceleration of an object depends on its mass and the amount of force applied, this represented by F = ma. Going back to the vertical loop, the smaller the radius, the greater the acceleration. There was centripetal acceleration as I went around the loop, which kept the train and the riders moving in a circular motion towards the center. Upon going up the loop, I felt heavier since the normal force was greater than the force of gravity, or my weight. I felt lighter going down the loop because I was sort of “falling” with the roller coaster train, my apparent weight seeming to be less than my real weight. At the very bottom of the loop, I felt heavier again, my apparent weight seemingly greater than my real weight. A zero-g roll is another inversion, which causes the train to flip. At this point, I felt like I was floating due to the contrived sensation of weightlessness.
Newton’s Third Law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. As the saying goes, “What goes up must come down.” This also applies to the fact that the roller coaster train, upon going up the loop, must also go back down the loop.When the ride started, I leaned all the way back in my seat. For most of the ride, I felt my body being pressed up against the seat and the seat pressing back on me. Along with the “equal and opposite” idea, the flip side of centripetal force is the centrifugal force (also known as the “fake” force). While the centripetal force pushed the train and riders toward the center of the loop, the centrifugal force created the feeling of being pressed into my seat.
Now when make a beeline for that intimidating roller coaster, we can depend on physics to provide us with the thrill that we seek. In the end, all three of Newton’s Laws can be applied in a variety of places, whether it be in the playground or at an amusement park. Physics is manipulated by those who design amusement park rides, and there must be a balance between factors such as speed and safety. If the ride is too fast, it will be quite intense and if there are too many loops, we will feel sick. What we need to remember is to keep our arms and legs inside the ride at all times—from there, the fun begins.
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