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Rollercoaster Physics

Rollercoaster PhysicsWith physics as your guide, adjust and test variables to model a gravity-defying rollercoaster. Teams record how changing variables such as height, mass, and hill position affect the run time. Using experiment results and their understanding of energy in a closed system, students will design the ultimate rollercoaster ride.

LEARNING LAB MAX: 32 students per lab session, with 3 lab sessions available per hour
TIME: 50 minutes
GRADE: Designed for grades 6-8
COST: $6 per lab, per student. This does not include museum admission.


  • A rollercoaster is a closed system that uses the energy from its initial highest point and from gravity to move objects along its track. Objects do not get energy from outside the system, and cannot travel higher than its highest point.
  • Changing variables such as object mass, height and location of hills affect how an object moves through a rollercoaster system.
  • Scientists and engineers change one variable at a time to see and understand the effect that change has on a system.



The Nature of Science and Engineering - Explain the importance of learning from past failures, in order to inform future designs of similar products or systems. - Describe a system in terms of its subsystems and parts, as well as its inputs, processes and outputs. - Distinguish between open and closed systems. - Plan and conduct a controlled experiment to test a hypothesis about a relationship between two variables, ensuring that one variable is systematically manipulated, the other is measured and recorded, and any other variables are kept the same (controlled). - Generate a scientific conclusion from an investigation, clearly distinguishing between results (evidence) and conclusions (explanation). - Evaluate explanations proposed by others by examining and comparing evidence, identifying faulty reasoning, and suggesting alternative explanations.

Physical Science - Identify the force that starts something moving or changes its speed or direction of motion. - Demonstrate that a greater force on an object can produce a greater change in motion. - Recognize that when the forces acting on an object are balanced, the object remains at rest or continues to move at a constant speed in a straight line, and that unbalanced forces cause a change in the speed or direction of the motion of an object. - Identify the forces acting on an object and describe how the sum of the forces affects the motion of the object. - Differentiate between kinetic and potential energy and analyze situations where kinetic energy is converted to potential energy and vice versa.

Request a Learning Lab

Learning Labs are available for school groups at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. They occur on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays during October-November and January-May. (In May, Tuesdays also become available.) Minimum/Maximum class size: 16/32 students. Reservations are required at least 2 weeks in advance for Learning Labs. To make your reservation, fill out the Field Trip Reservation Request, email , or call (651) 221-9444 Tuesday - Friday, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Learning Labs Price: $6 per lab, per student. Requires museum admission. Minimum 16, maximum 32 students per lab.