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The summer of 1895 crowds flooded the coney island boardwalk to see the latest marvel marvel of roller coaster technology the flip flap railway this was americas first ever coaster. But its thrilling flip came at a price. The ride caused numerous cases of severe whiplash neck injury.
And even ejections all due to its signature loop. Today coasters can pull off far more exciting tricks without resorting to the thrill of a hospital visit. But what exactly are roller coasters doing to your body.
And how have they managed to get scarier and safer at the same time at the center of every roller coaster design is gravity unlike cars or transit. Trains most coasters are propelled around their tracks almost entirely by gravitational energy. After the coaster crests.
The initial lift hill. It begins. An expertly engineered cycle building potential energy on ascents and expending kinetic energy on descents this rhythm repeats throughout the ride acting out the coaster engineers choreographed dance of gravitational energy.
But theres a key variable in this cycle that wasnt always so carefully considered you in the days of the flip flap ride designers were most concerned with coasters getting stuck somewhere along the track this led early builders to overcompensate hurling trains down hills and pulling on the brakes when they reached the station but as gravity affects the cars. It also affects the passengers and under the intense conditions of a coaster gravitys effects are multiplied. Theres a common unit used by jet pilots astronauts and coaster designers called g force .
One g. Force is the familiar tug of gravity you feel when standing on earth this is the force of earths gravitational pull on our bodies. But as riders accelerate and decelerate.
They experience more or less gravitational force modern ride. Designers know that the body can handle up to roughly 5 gs. But the flip flap and its contemporaries routinely reached up to 12 gs at those levels of gravitational pressure blood is sent flying from your brain to your feet leading to light headedness or blackouts as the brain struggles to stay conscious and oxygen deprivation in the retinal cells impairs their ability to process light causing greyed out vision or temporary blindness.
If the riders are upside down blood can flood the skull causing a bout of crimson vision called a redout conversely negative gs create weightlessness within the body short term weightlessness is mostly harmless. It can contribute to a riders motion sickness by suspending the fluid in their inner ears. Which coordinates balance.
But the bigger potential danger and thrill comes from what ride designers call airtime. This is when riders typically experience seat separation and without the proper precautions ejection. The numerous belts and harnesses of modern coasters.
Have largely solved this issue. But the passengers ever changing position can make it difficult to determine what needs to be strapped down. Fortunately.
Modern. Ride. Designers are well aware of what your body and the coaster can handle coaster engineers play these competing forces against each other to relieve periods of intense pressure with periods of no pressure at all and since a quick transition from positive to negative g force can result in whiplash headaches and back and neck pain they avoid the extreme changes in speed and direction.
So common in thrill rides of old modern rides are also much sturdier closely considering the amount of gravity. They need to withstand at 5 gs your body feels. 5.
Times heavier. So if you weigh 100lbs youd exert the weight of 500 lbs on the coaster engineers have to account for the multiplied weight of every passenger. When designing a coasters supports still these rides arent for everyone the floods of adrenaline light headedness and motion sickness arent going anywhere soon but todays redundant restraints 3d modeling and simulation software have made roller coasters safer and more thrilling than ever our precise knowledge about the limits of the human body have helped us build coasters that are faster taller and loopier and all without going off the rails.
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