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Thorpe Park - investigate the different ways in which physics are involved to create thrilling yet safe rides.

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AS Physics Coursework – Thorpe Park


My aim is to investigate the different ways in which physics are involved to create thrilling yet safe rides. Some examples of the physics used in a theme park, which I intend to explore in this piece of coursework, are the following:

  • The sensation of “weightlessness”
  • Large accelerations of the body
  • Large decelerations of the body
  • Changes in kinetic and potential energy
  • Newton’s laws of motion
  • Power and work done
  • Lifting forces and stopping forces

I have chosen the ride called “detonator”. I must find out two pieces of information needed before I carry out my investigation and carry out my calculations. I will firstly need to estimate the mass of the carriage and the height (displacement) of the tower.

Estimating the mass

There are twelve seats, each holding a person who on average has a mass of 90kg. There is a large carriage with a mass of 1500kg – although this is an estimate. The total mass equals 2580kg, this is an estimate this is not very accurate as not every rider is identical and has a mass of 90kg some may have a higher or less weight. This will affect my results slightly.  

Estimating the height

To estimate the height of the detonator I will use similar triangles to accomplish this. image00.png





Two triangles are similar if they have the same shape. They don't have to be the same size. For the smaller triangle, I will evaluate the ratio of the side with length h to the side with length l.

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I recorded the times with a standard digital stopwatch. I recorded three sets of results for the five times and worked out an average for a more accurate set of results. This was a reliable but inaccurate method as many human or technical errors where possible, causing an unfair set of results.

Free fall

Galileo first introduced the concept known as free fall. According to legend, Galileo dropped balls of different mass from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to help support his ideas. These classic experiments led to the finding that all objects free fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass.

An object in the state of free fall is only influenced by the force of gravity. The object has a downward acceleration toward the centre of the earth (9.81ms-2), the source of gravity.

I will use a constant acceleration formula to investigate whether the detonator has an acceleration of –9.81ms-2, as Galileo predicted. The displacement of the free fall ride is 27meters as I previously estimated (see page 1). The time of the free fall part of the ride is 2.32 seconds as I also previously recorded.



T= 2.32 seconds

U= 0ms-1


S= ut + 1/2at2

S = ½ at2


a = 2x 27


a= 10.03 ms-2

This is near the value of acceleration due to gravity. I think this is a reasonable result due to the limitations. Firstly the displacement was just an estimate and may not be the exact value, this would affect the result, as it may be a greater or less value.

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Discussion of future developments

It is hard to find any future developments, which would improve the ride in any way because top physics have been used to design this ride. Maybe you could increase the duration of the free fall part of the ride, making a longer sensation of weightlessness. Also increasing the height of the ride would increase the gravitational potential energy and as the carriage descends it will loose more kinetic energy therefore going faster. This too would increase the sensation if weightlessness.


I think that this investigation was overall very successful. I estimated the height of the detonator to be 31.08meters high. I later researched on the Internet and found the actual height to be 30.48. My estimate was only 0.6 meters out and was a very pleasing result. To improve this investigation I would spend a bit more time in the theme park to gather and check through the calculations and to make sure they are accurate.


  • “Salters Horners Advanced Physics” book
  • Thorpe park web page – “www.thorpepark.org
  • Google search engine – “amusement-park.searchmole.co.uk/ search/amusement-park.html”
  • “A – Z of physic principles”

By Shayon McClements Page:

...read more.

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