Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Roller Coasts and Physics
Name: Angelina
Status: student
Age: 13
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001

How do rollercoasters relate to Physical Science?


Roller coasters are a wonderful example of showing the flow of energy. Sometimes energy is contained in the gravitational field (Gravitational Potential Energy), sometimes it is contained in the moving object (Kinetic Energy), and sometimes it goes to warming things (Thermal Energy). In a roller coaster system, the train is lifted by a motor. The energy from the electrical field in the motor flows into the mechanical energy lifting the roller coaster. This energy in turn flows into the gravitational field as the train is brought to the top of the lift hill. At the top of the lift hill, the roller coaster is released, thus allowing the for the flow of energy from the gravitational field to the kinetic energy of the train, and back into the gravitational field on the next hill. Since there is friction, air resistance, etc., some of the energy flows into thermal energy, and the track, etc. get a little warmer.

Great question!

---Nathan A. Unterman

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory