Paper Roller Coasters

The week of December 7-11 is a busy time for Dr. Nambiar’s physics class. Paper roller coasters are being built and launch day is Thursday, December 10 and Friday, December 11.

Physics is a science class offered at Millbrook that involves the study of matter and energy, forces, motion, and the laws that explain it. The paper roller coaster project allows for the investigation of conservation of energy and momentum, which is what physics is to Dr. Nambiar.

Students are placed into groups of 3-4 partners and are asked, “to design and build a roller coaster which will allow a marble to accelerate and remain in motion on a track through a variety of turns, loops, and drops. Students should be able to apply Newton’s Laws and Conservation of Energy in the development and analysis of the roller coaster.”

The design cannot exceed the length, width, and height of 50cm x 75 cm . 150 cm, and the foundation is foam board Dr. Nambiar provided with set dimensions. Coasters must include a wide turn, sharp turn, funnel, loop, camelback, cork screw, and an incline. Allowed materials are clear or masking tape and paper. Groups are allowed to test launch as many times as they wish and have two and a half weeks to build their personalized coaster.

“I have done this project for many years, but this is the first year I’ve only allowed paper. It’s also a good way to recycle and support the recycling Millbrook does every Friday. In years past, students were allowed to use any household objects such as plastic. My fondest memory of this project would be about four or five years ago when a student welded their coaster together with metal. He was in welding classes and I was so worried but he said it would be fine. He made a really good track and he won.”

Times this year are ranging from three seconds to nine seconds. “I’m just so excited they got into it. It is a test grade so I think this is what motivates them, but I’ve had students stay after school to work on their tracks. It’s a hands on project and so much better than me lecturing them on conservation of energy and momentum.”

Amusement parks around the world have a set physics day. “I’d love to take them on a field trip.” The park closes for an entire day and only physics students are allowed. They are allowed to ride the roller coasters of course, and then able to wear vests and measure the g-force of the coasters they ride. With all the many designs created in the physics class, Nambiar is hoping to be able to take one of them and enter it in a contest held at amusement parks for self-built roller coasters.