Create your own Rollercoaster!
Hosted by: UT Austin Student Engineers Educating Kids
Visit our Booth: Saturday, February 27, 2021, 12 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Recommended Grades: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th
The Challenge: Create a mini rollercoaster within your own home! Use pool noodles, tape, toothpicks, a marble or other small ball, and your creativity!
How long of a roller coaster can you create so that your marble or bouncy ball stays on the track the whole time and makes it to the end? Can you add loops or turns?
WARNING: Adult assistance is needed.
Recommended materials: packaging tape, markers/stickers, wooden toothpicks, one marble or another sphere of equal size, a small paper or plastic cup, thin pool noodle or foam pipe insulation (approximately between 2.5 - 3 in in diameter works best). Depending on how long you'd like your rollercoaster to be, we recommend having at least one whole pool noodle per person (the pool noodle will need to be cut in half by an adult to create the track). You can also use paper towel tubes, rolled paper, or other materials instead of a pool noodle or foam pipe - get creative.
How does this activity connect to STEM and today's Girl Day theme of Designing Fun: Theme Parks, Games, and Music?
Many of us have seen a roller coaster at an amusement park or pictures of huge coasters with big hills, turns, and flips. What you may not have known is that roller coasters don’t have engines or brakes to move or slow down the cart. So, what makes them speed up, slow down, and go upside down? Roller Coasters rely on momentum and gravity to keep it going on the track. This momentum is created during the first big hill where the roller coaster gains speed and allows the roller coasters to go up the next hill, around a curve, or through a loop! Gravity is the force that pulls you, your chair, and everything around you to the earth. In a roller coaster, the force of inertia is greater than the force of gravity which is why you don’t fall off your seat.
Some key concepts:
Kinetic Energy – Energy possessed by an object due to its motion. The energy of a moving object is kinetic energy. The highest point of a rollercoaster has the least kinetic energy because you are not in motion and the most potential energy because there is a greater distance to fall.
Potential Energy – Energy stored in the object’s height; the higher it is, the more potential energy it possesses. For example, if you have a ball on top of a tower, it has stored energy because it could fall. Similarly, when you reach the top of a roller coaster before going down, you reach your maximum potential energy.
Conservation of Energy – Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it just changes its form. The total energy remains the same. When there’s a ball at the top of a hill, it has high potential energy, and as it rolls down, the energy doesn’t vanish, it just converts to kinetic energy.
Momentum – The quantity of motion of a moving object. Objects with higher momentum require more effort to stop their motion; higher weight and higher speed make for higher momentum
Gravity – A force that attracts two objects; all things on earth are attracted to the center of the earth, causing objects to fall downwards. It's the force that keeps you grounded onto the floor, or onto your chair when you are sitting on a roller coaster.
Inertia - You need a force to get an object in motion. It will stay in motion until acted on by another force. A marble will not roll on its own until you push it and it won’t stop until you stop it or the force of friction stops it.
For this project, we’ll be modeling roller coasters and explaining the physics behind how they work! Each roller coaster must follow the 3 requirements below:
- At least 1 loop
- At least 1 tunnel
- The marble must land in the target/cup (THE FLOOR IS LAVA!!!)
- ADULT SUPERVISION NEEDED. Cut a pool noodle in half along the vertical part of the noodle (cut the noodle into two equal semicircular columns). The
- Using the pool noodle and toothpicks/tape, piece the parts together so it meets the requirements above.
- Allow your students to use their creativity to create the ride of their dreams and don’t forget to decorate and name their rollercoaster. Make sure that the marble reaches the end of the rollercoaster and lands in your cup.
- Challenge the students to create a rollercoaster with the most loops or allow them to race their marbles to the bulls-eye target/cup.
Share a video of your roller coaster in action on Flipgrid.
Watch some of our SEEK mentors create their own rollercoaster!
Student Engineers Educating Kids (SEEK), in partnership with Communities in Schools, is a mentorship program led and run by UT Engineering students to provide low-income elementary and middle school students the opportunity to explore the idea of higher education and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) fields. For more information regarding SEEK and our mission (as well as additional STEM projects), please visit us at https://www.utseek.org/.