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Scream machines: how four of the world's most extreme roller coasters seem to defy the laws of physics.

At the Ferrari World theme park in the United Arab Emirates, thrill seekers wait eagerly in line to take a spin on the Formula Rossa--the world's fastest roller coaster. When the race-car-themed coaster pulls up, riders slip into the plastic seats. They pull down lap bars to secure themselves and slip on goggles to protect their eyes from the force of the wind. Anticipation builds as the coaster slowly trundles out of the station. Then WHOOSH! The coaster suddenly blasts forward, rocketing shrieking passengers down the track at 240 kilometers (150 miles) per hour!

The Formula Rossa is just one example of amusement parks' ongoing quest to fend new ways to excite visitors. "Roller coasters are always improving, getting faster, taller, and better, but the physics behind the rides remains the same," says Larry Chickola, chief engineer for Six Flags amusement parks.

Take a look at how four new roller coasters, including the Formula Rossa, get theme park goers' adrenaline pumping.


LOCATION: Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

OPENED: 2010


Until the Formula Rossa roller coaster was built, only a handful of people in the world got to experience what it felt like to be behind the wheel of a Formula 1 race car. The coaster is designed to replicate Ferrari's F1 car, down to its signature red paint and its ability to go from zero to 240 kph (150 mph) in less than five seconds.

To accelerate so quickly, the ride relies on a launch system similar to those that fling fighter jets off aircraft carriers (see diagram, below). Beneath the track, motors wind a cable that catapults the coaster's cars forward and up the main hill. As the cars climb, they gain potential energy from the height. Once they crest the top of the hill, the force of gravity pulls the cars down the other side. This transforms stored potential energy into kinetic energy, which keeps the coaster in motion.

Compared with the world's tallest roller coaster--Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey--which boasts a hill taller than the Statue of Liberty, the Formula Rossa's hills are puny. Instead, riders get their kicks by speeding through multiple tight turns called chicanes, inspired by world-famous racetracks.


To reach such high speeds, the Formula Rossa uses a launch system that propels the coaster car down the

[1] MOTORS WINCH: Forty-eight motors turn a large drum called a winch.

[2] PULLING CABLES: Two steel cables wind around the winch in a matter of seconds.

[3] CATCH CAR: The cables are connected to a catch car, a sliding device temporarily hooked beneath the coaster's cars.

[4] THE LAUNCH: The moving cables pull the catch car forward, dragging the coaster's cars along with it. Then the catch car releases, launching the coaster cars with great force.


TOP SPEED: 240 kph (150 mph)

RIDE TIME: 1.3 minutes

TRACK LENGTH: 2 km (1.2 mi)

TALLEST HILL: 52 meters (171 feet)



FEATURED THRILL: Weightlessness

What's it like to float weightless in space? Astronauts-intraining find out by taking a ride on NASA's "Vomit Comet," a plane that re-creates zero gravity by flying in a swooping arc. This inspired Bob Rogers, a museum and theme park designer at BRC Imagination Arts in California, to design a roller coaster that would give riders a similar experience: eight seconds of weightlessness.

Riders seated inside an enclosed space shuttle-shaped car will speed up a soaring incline. Near the top, the coaster will slow slightly. Inertia--an object's resistance to a change in motion--will cause passengers to continue to move forward and out of their seats. Riders will stay floating as the ride falls backward down the same track it went up. The capsule's speed will adjust to fall at the same rate as the riders, extending the feeling of free fall. "Because the capsule doesn't have windows, passengers won't even know they are falling," says Rogers.

When the coaster brakes, riders will fall back into their seats with a force of acceleration, called g-force, two times Earth's gravity--close to that of a rocket launch. In spite of the ride's name, most everyone exiting it will have kept his or her lunch down, says Rogers. But just in case, the capsule will be equipped with barf bags and drains.


LOCATION: Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, Illinois

OPENED: 2012

FEATURED THRILL: Flying through the air

The plane-themed X-Flight is one of the first wing coasters in the U.S.--the first opened in Italy last year. On a wing coaster, people sit in cars suspended on either side of the track with their legs dangling. "There's pretty much no part of the ride above or below you, so you are hanging out into nothingness," says Larry Chickola of Six Flags.

When an aircraft banks, or tilts right or left, one wing dips down and the other rises. The X-Flight's cars, or 'wings," do the same thing one after another as the coaster snakes through the track's turns. "It looks like a slinky, twisting cobra," says Chickola. The design adds to the illusion of flying as the coaster replicates aerial stunts like barrel rolls.

One of the coaster's most heart-pounding features is called "the eye of the needle," where riders fly straight toward a tower. Then, at the last minute, the coaster tilts sideways and dives through a keyhole cutout in the structure.


LOCATION: Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park, Fujiyoshida, Japan

OPENED: 2011

FEATURED THRILL: A supersteep drop

Takabisha means "domineering" in Japanese, and this ride lives up to its name. You might think that the steepest drop imaginable on a roller coaster would be 90 degrees from the horizontal, or straight down. But the Takabisha goes even further, with a 121-degree drop--the steepest of any roller coaster.

First, the coaster climbs an incline that goes straight up for 14 stories. When the cars reach the top, they pitch forward, then drop down an S-shaped curve. This tips riders headover-heels before pulling them into a nosedive. The steeper a coaster's angle of descent, the faster it accelerates. If that makes your palms sweat, just remember: The speedier the ride, the more quickly it will be over--usually in a matter of minutes.


What features would you like to see engineers add to roller coasters?


NATIONAL SCIENCE EDUCATION STANDARDS: Grades 5-8: Motions and forces Grades 9-12: Motions and forces

COMMON CORE STATE STANDARD: LITERACY IN SCIENCE: 3. Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments.


Students will learn the physics behind some of the world's most extreme roller coasters.


* Describe your favorite amusement park ride.

* What forces do you feel on your body when you ride a roller coaster? (force pushing you down in your seat when you go around loops, a feeling of weightlessness when you go down steep hills, etc.)

* Why do roller coasters sometimes start the ride at the top of a tall hill? (to build up potential energy, which is converted to kinetic energy as the cars move down the hill)


1. Go to Open the digital edition to page 12, and have students do the same in their magazines. Ask students to skim the four pages of the article, looking only at the pictures and the names of the roller coasters. Ask them which roller coaster looks like the most fun to ride. Why do they think so?

2. Call on a volunteer to read the introduction aloud. Ask another volunteer to read the first section about the Formula Rossa roller coaster on page 13. Highlight the vocabulary terms potential energy and kinetic energy and write their definitions on a digital sticky note.

3. Continue reading the rest of the article as a class, with students taking turns reading paragraphs.

4. Download the "Coaster Motion" reproducible from under the orange "Skills Sheets" button at Break students into groups and have them perform the hands-on activity.

5. Compare students' results front the hands-on activity. Did results vary from group to group'? As a class, brainstorm how you could use the materials from the hands-on activity to build your own roller coaster. How high would your first hill have to be to build a track with two hills'? Test your hypothesis!


Read the text in the box labeled "What Do You Think'?" on page 15. "What features would you like to see engineers add to roller coasters?" What elements do you think make the best rides?


Go over the answers to the "Coaster Motion" work sheet. Did students accurately graph their measurements? Do they understand the concept of gravitational potential energy?

DON'T TEACH PHYSICS? (30 to and click on the orange Skills Sheets button to download these assessments:


Why does your heart race during a screaminducing roller coaster ride? Read this passage to learn how roller coasters set off the body's natural adrenaline-based alarm system.


The Vomit Comet recreates space's wieghtlessness. But did you know- that your weight changes when you travel to a different planet'? Use this work sheet to calculate the weight of various objects on the planets in our solar system.


* VIDEO EXTRA: Watch a video of the Takabisha roller coaster in action at:

* Students can learn more about the physics behind the fun and design their own coasters at this site:

* See how a coaster's kinetic and potential energy change over time at this site:
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Author:Crane, Cody
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:May 14, 2012
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