Potential & Kinetic Energy: Roller Coasters

This lab illustrates the type of energy conversions that are experienced on a roller coaster, and as a method of enhancing the students’ understanding of that concept, they will create their own roller coasters to test out their ideas.

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Student Version
Student Advanced Version

Teacher Version

Recommended Prerequisites:
  • For the basic version, square roots and basic algebra is recommended.
  • For the advanced version, solving equations and algebra is recommended.
Key Concepts:
  • Energy is the ability of a system or object to perform work. It exists in various forms.
  • Potential energy is the energy an object has inside a force field due to its position. In the roller coaster’s case, the potential energy comes from its height because the Earth’s gravity force is acting on it. Roller coasters are able to move their passengers very rapidly up and down the hills because the cars have a large amount of potential energy on the very first hill.
  • Kinetic energy is mechanical energy that is due to motion of an object.
  • Thermal energy is energy due to the heat of a system or object. Energy can be converted to heat through frictional dissipation.
  • Friction, or frictional dissipation, is a phenomenon in which mechanically useful energy, such as the motion of the roller coaster, is converted to mechanically useless energy such as heat or sound. Friction acts on all moving objects, and it is the reason that a ball rolled across an open space will eventually slow down and stop.
  • Conservation of Energy is a fundamental principle that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Rather, it is transferred between different forms, such as those described above.
  • 2 Foam pipe tubes  (about 6’ X 7/8’ i.d. x 3/8’ wall)
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors
  • Marbles
  • Large wide space – with available space to tape to.
  • Metric ruler/measuring tape
  • Sharpie marker
We want your feedback! Please leave a reply below with your comments, questions, or suggestion to help us improve the lab.

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