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Roller coasters offer thrills — and science lessons

SHARE Roller coasters offer thrills — and science lessons

VALENCIA, Calif. — Wielding calculators and protractors, high school students from as far away as Arizona descended upon Magic Mountain at Six Flags California on Sunday to apply the principles of physics to something they know well, roller coasters.

While some of the juniors and seniors peered through angle-calculating contraptions to determine the slope of the coasters, others took to the rides and timed the drastic descents, filling in the values of complex mathematical formulas.

"We just rode a ride called Atom Smasher, which had to do with centrifugal acceleration," said Annie Chang, 16, a junior at Burbank High School. "The first thing we said — after we screamed — is that we had learned about it, but you can't really imagine it. That's what the ride did."

The laws of acceleration, energy conversion and other physics principles are dramatically demonstrated on Physics Day at the park for students.

More than 2,000 students, working in teams, received workbooks directing them to rides whose elements they had studied.

Gary Luan, a 17-year-old junior at Rosemead High School, found the rides more fascinating as physics in action.

"It reflects on how physics applies to real life. Most people go to the theme park, and they don't look at what's going on behind the scenes," said Luan, who worked alongside fellow classmate Tony Jiang to determine how close the steepest descent on the Scream ride comes to free fall.

"Physics Day provides the students with challenges not seen in the classrooms," said Ron Broschart, general sales manager at Magic Mountain.