Roller Coasters are Machines That Use Energy and Perform Work

A photograph shows a roller coaster cart in an upside down position inside a roller coaster loop of a track
Figure 9.1 People on a roller coaster experience thrills caused by changes in types of energy. (Jonrev, Wikimedia Commons)

Roller coasters have provided thrills for daring riders around the world since the nineteenth century. Inventors of roller coasters used simple physics to build the earliest examples using railroad tracks on mountainsides and old mines. Modern roller coaster designers use the same basic laws of physics to create the latest amusement park favorites. Physics principles are used to engineer the machines that do the work to lift a roller coaster car up its first big incline before it is set loose to roll. Engineers also have to understand the changes in the car’s energy that keep it speeding over hills, through twists, turns, and even loops.

What exactly is energy? How can changes in force, energy, and simple machines move objects like roller coaster cars? How can machines help us do work? In this chapter, you will discover the answer to this question and many more, as you learn about work, energy, and simple machines.