Adrenaline junkies, thrill seekers, and daredevils alike may find roller coaster rides as a common ground when it comes to achieving instant adrenaline rush. Whilst on the queue, riders usually gauge the intensity of a roller coaster by its highest peak and how crazy the loops are. Engineers and technically inclined individuals, on the other hand, sees the most popular theme park ride more of a science project than anything else. Just take a look at this video explaining why roller coaster loops shouldn’t be designed as perfect circles.
One might think that a perfect circle would naturally be the best solution as they look visibly appealing. However, science and nature work in mysterious ways and achieving a perfect loop is very much governed by the strange laws of physics. The video explains that using a circle shaped loop results into an uneven distribution of weight as a person travels through the circular path. It takes more effort to climb a perfectly shaped loop, that’s why people would feel much heavier when they are at the bottom and significantly lighter when at the peak.
So how can we achieve a perfect roller coaster loop to evenly distribute weight at any point in the path? With the clever arrangement of shapes that corresponds with the speed of the projectile, it’s really very simple. For the subject or projectile to keep its speed as it starts to climb the path, the loop must be designed with a more sudden curve. Then as the projectile loses speed at the top, the curve must be substantially steeper. This combination of sudden and steep curves results in a tear drop shaped loop. The projectile doesn’t exert extra force at the bottom in order to pull itself upwards instead, it uses its momentum to do the work all throughout the path and as it goes back down. In fact, this imperfect loop shape also has one advantage over the perfect circular path. The former doesn’t cause the roller coaster track to vibrate as much because the force exerted within it is more equally distributed than that of the perfect circle. Therefore, the projectile’s momentum can reach a longer distance as more energy is available within its body because it didn’t exert so much energy to travel around the loop.
It’s awesome to learn that a roller coaster loop is just as exciting to design as it is to take a ride on it.