Energy is the capacity to do work.  A roller coaster has energy because it has the ability to get to one point to the next and therefore do work.  There are two important terms to know when talking about roller coasters and energy.  Those terms are Potential and Kinetic Energy.  This experiment will help you see and understand what Potential and Kinetic energy are and how they are different from each other.

The Activity:
Potential and Kinetic Energy
(Print out the handout located at the bottom of this page before doing this activity.)

1. Go to these web sites.  Locate and write down the definitions of what Potential and Kinetic Energy are.

2. Go to the  Funderstanding roller coaster web site.
  Test out the simulator.  After you have tried the simulation a few times.  Think critically about Potential and Kinetic Energy.  Use your definitions and resources to help you answer the following questions:

· At what point is there the greatest amount of potential energy?  Kinetic energy?
· What can you do in the simulation to increase the potential energy and the kinetic energy of the car?

3. Now build a roller coaster model.  This model should have a starting hill and one other hill to begin with.

You will need the following materials:

· Take a ruler and measure how high your first hill is.  Record this number:
· Take a ruler again and measure how high the second hill is.  Record this number.
· How were these numbers different?
· Why were they different?
· Where were the greatest amounts of potential and kinetic energy located in this roller coaster?
· Finally what can you say about how roller coasters move after doing this experiment?
· What other experiments could you conduct to show potential and kinetic energy?
· What could you do differently to raise the amount of total energy in a roller coaster?

Energy Handout
(Note to Instructors: Answer sheets to the Handouts may be obtained by email to the webmaster-

Back Next Page