Physics Students Design Thrill Rides

"Jackpot" - one of five roller coasters designed by Kittanning High School physics students - was tested in front of administrators, faculty and fellow students Wednesday afternoon.

by Jonathan Weaver

Physics 1 students at Kittanning Senior High  designed what could become roller coasters at local theme parks.

After learning about mechanical physics since the beginning of school, five teams of students put their knowledge to the test and designed roller coasters for classmates, faculty and administration members District-wide last week.

Dr. Deborah Snyder, who has conducted the project in her classes annually, said she was impressed by the coasters. Students worked on the coasters for the past two weeks.

“I’m real pleased with how they turned out this year – really, really nice. Every one of them worked,” Snyder said.

Students tested the designs with steel balls during 2nd and 3rd periods, but Snyder said the roller coasters weren’t just a fun activity, but would affect a good portion of their nine-weeks grade.

“I think (they had fun), but it’s very stressful too – it’s a big presentation and a lot of work and there’s a lot required – so I’m sure it’s stressful, but today, everyone was relaxed and had a good time while they presented,” Snyder said.

“It’s worth a lot of points – it really makes-or-breaks their nine-weeks grade,” Snyder added.

Snyder said she has not finished grading the coasters, but was encouraged by what she saw Wednesday.

“I have to grade all their math separate, but based on what I saw today, everyone did a really nice job – their presentations were good, their coasters were good. And they also had to do a video presentation with it to explain how they built their coasters, the calculations they did, and all that,” Snyder said.

Teams had to keep a journal of their daily trials as well.

Senior Chuck Layton wrote the journal and presentation for his group. The students worked together to create “The Up-Chuck,” a roller coaster that included a second elevation, a loop and a bank turn.

Despite the obstacles, “The Up-Chuck” worked on its first attempt, which pleased Layton.

“I think it was a really good project. It helped us to fully demonstrate our knowledge of what we learned throughout this year,” Layton said. “It put together all the aspects of mechanics and we had to use everything we learned to build the roller coaster. We had to overcome many obstacles as we built it, but it did work at the end.”

Layton said the group made sure there was enough potential energy in the loop and overcame friction to make the coaster successful. He took the design – which he hoped earned the group an ‘A’ – home Wednesday to keep.

Those in attendance included math and woodworking teachers at Kittanning Senior High, other students, 9-12th grade Curriculum Coordinator Shauna Zukowski, School Superintendent Dr. Stan Chapp, and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lyn Logelin.

The competition coincidentally fell on “Pi Day,” an unofficial holiday celebrating the mathematical concept. Students were able to eat six different kinds of pie – including coconut crème, blueberry and key lime cheesecake – during the trials.

Students will next learn about waves and energy transfer. Their final grade will also reflect on making a Rube Goldberg machine that performs a simple task.

An annual project as part of Dr. Deborah Snyder's Physics I class, students had to incorporate loops, an elevation or turns in their design; like in the "Space Coaster."