BLOG: Brains rattle at Cedar Point's Math & Science Week

Tom Sherer
May 17, 2012

 

At some level, gravity is what makes every ride at Cedar Point the ride that it is.

The butterflied stomach you get every time one of Skyhawk’s swings reaches its apex is the lack of gravity giving you what feels like a quick moment of weightlessness.

The thrill in Top Thrill Dragster is the launch that quickly has you barreling at 120 mph to seemingly escape Earth’s gravity for a few seconds, only to be pulled back down from the 420-foot height.

When I was in high school, I can remember traveling by bus to Cedar Point from several hours away for Physics Week — or whatever it was actually called back then.

Like most students on that day, I couldn’t have cared less about the physics behind the rides; I just wanted to ride. A few students, however, were truly interested in how and why the rides worked. Today, those students probably are engineers and scientists who run companies and have great careers.

With our country’s comparative struggles in math, science and engineering, let this be a lesson to the youth of America in the midst of this being Math & Science Week at Cedar Point.

In honor of this special week, I asked my father to contribute a little something to this blog entry.

My dad was a science — mainly chemistry and physics — teacher for three decades. He loved science and impacting students’ lives, but he despised grading. I’m not talking like natural cat-vs.-mouse despised; I’m talking like Michael Douglas in “Falling Down” despised.

Rides — with all of their drops, twists, turns and vomit-inducing capabilities — follow the laws of physics, and few rides at Cedar Point play with the laws better than Witches’ Wheel.

If you’ve ridden Witches’ Wheel, you might notice that when the wheel is spinning and you’re heading up, your arms and legs feel heavier and are more difficult to move. But when the wheel is spinning and you’re heading down, they feel lighter and are easier than usual to move.

Why is that? I asked my dad for a very basic, scientific explanation.

“When you are on the wheel, you would be trying to move in a straight line, but the car (because it’s attached) keeps pulling you into a curved path. When you are going up, the car is accelerating you up while gravity is accelerating you down — thus the feeling of heaviness. Going down, you are free-falling, and thus you are not pushing against the car and thus feel light. Just basic physics.”

What about the weightless feeling upon reaching the swing’s apex on Skyhawk?

“It’s a lack of gravity giving you what feels like weightlessness. Yet, according to Albert Einstein, there is no difference between acceleration from other sources and gravity. Thus, when you are free-falling, there is no way to determine if gravity has changed or if you were accelerated by some other system.”

At least that’s what my dad says.

I’d look more into this, but I have rides to ride … right now!

Tom Sherer is an award-winning graphic designer with the Sandusky Register and a Cedar Point enthusiast who visited the park 53 times in 2011. He chronicles his adventures in coasterland here at "Belaboring the Point."