A roller coaster has no engine and works only from the force of gravity from the first hill it is pulled up. In the process, a roller coaster transfers potential energy to kinetic, or real, movement, all from the descent of a hill. Build a model roller coaster for a school project to learn more about the physics behind this amusement-park favorite. Use foam pipe insulation from a hardware store to construct the track and test it with marbles.
1. Cut Out the Track Pieces
Cut both pieces of 6-foot, 1 1/2-inch-diameter foam pipe insulation in half lengthwise so they form a "U" shape. Each pipe comes partially cut. Cut the partially cut side all the way through, then cut the opposite side to create two U-channel pieces per pipe. You should have four U-channel pieces in total with this step.
2. Assemble the Track With Tape
Tape two pieces of foam track together with masking tape. Be sure the tape is smooth inside the foam tube and the channel is on the inside. Curl the track to form a loop, approximately 12 to 20 inches in diameter. Use a ruler to measure its width. Tape the loop you formed together where the two tracks meet.
Tape a third section of track so it connects to one side of the loop. Secure a fourth section of track so it connects to the other side of the loop with the tape. Be sure the tape is smooth inside.
3. Raise the Roller Coaster Track
Raise one end of track up to a bookshelf or table and tape it down with the masking tape. The loop should sit on the floor. Tape it down to the floor.
Measure the diameter of the loop and the height of the track where it meets the bookshelf or table. Measure the total distance of track from the bookshelf to the loop.
4. Test the Roller Coaster
Perform a simple experiment in the transfer of potential to kinetic energy by releasing a marble from the top of the roller coaster and watching it travel down and around the loop. You may need to adjust the height of the initial drop so the marble can make the loop.
Things You'll Need
- 2 6-foot, 1 1/2-inch-diameter pieces of foam pipe insulation
- Utility knife
- Masking tape
- Tape measure
- Bookshelf or table
- Glass marbles
Once the marble can make the loop, add twists and turns or another loop after the first loop. Use more foam insulation as needed.
Change the diameter of the loop to observe if the marble can still make the loop.
Young children need adult supervision for this project.