How do roller coasters operate in a way that give people an exciting experience?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Roller coasters were first considered in the 1800’s after French and Russian efforts to conceive a form of entertainment that would combine kinetic energy and potential energy to cause excitement (and often fear) in participants. The idea was inspired by the snowy, tall mountains of Russia and by the Industrial Revolution which required ways to move coal and other materials throughout the slopes of the mountains where mining was taking place, as well as the building of railroads. The system of slopes and carts combined with newly-developed technologies to aid in construction and mining. However, it was in the 1920’s that American entrepreneurs began to see the business potential of a similar concept made for mere entertainment purposes.

This being said, it is safe to argue that four major denominators make roller coasters operate in a way that it brings out a sense of excitement in the participant: first, it is the mixture of kinetic and potential energies. While the potential energy moves the carts up, the KINETIC energy is released at full speed when the cart is shot down a slope.  After the energy combination, there is the G-Force, which is the gravitational acceleration that comes from an object falling down, according to Newton’s third law of motion.  The g-force is counteracted and yet also combined with inertia, or the amount of gravity that it would take for your body to remain stuck to the seat despite the incline level of the slope. However, out of the four key elements of roller coast operation the most important is the human factor; our bodies produce adrenaline at very high levels when the g-force of the roller coaster runs at full speed.  At this point, the body is also giving off g’s of its own, which come with the combination of adrenaline and acceleration. In some human bodies, this sensation is agreeable only momentarily; in others, the adrenaline only builds up more and more with the excitement of the visual false sense of danger that the roller coaster presents in its design. Another neurotransmitting hormone that is released in similarly high amounts to adrenaline is Phenyl ethyl-amine, which is a stimulant hormone that humans feel in situations where there are emotions such as love, infatuation, or during the use of psycho-stimulant drugs.  Hence, two stimulants working together can certainly create a sensation of happiness and excitement during a roller coaster ride. Along with that, there is the faster heart-rate, blood pumping and releasing oxygen to the lungs at a faster rate, the resulting fast breathing and the rest of the external sensations (wind, open sky, people looking at you) that certainly make this experience one of a kind.