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Conservation of Energy

The amount of energy in a closed system never changes.

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An Adventure at the Amusement Park

Why do rollercoasters go so far?

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

A rollercoaster undergoing a transfer of energy [Figure1]

As you are on a rollercoaster ride, you notice four different things. When you are at a high altitude, the speed of the rollercoaster is really slow. But when you are at ground level, the rollercoaster is traveling really fast. There are two times in which the speed of the rollercoaster changes. As it is going up, the rollercoaster slows down. As it is going down, the speed of the rollercoaster increases.

The conservation of energy states that the total energy stays the same, given that there is an absence of external forces. In this example, assume that the change in energy due to friction and other forces besides gravity is negligible.

Creative Applications

  1. In order to analyze the physics of the rollercoaster using conservation of energy, why would we omit the beginning of the ride?
  2. Two types of energy are taking place on the rollercoaster: potential and kinetic energy. According to the conversation of energy, we must true about the sum of potential and kinetic energies throughout the motion of the rollercoaster?
  3. Using conservation of energy, explain why the rollercoaster is slower when its higher and faster when its lower.
  4. Explain what is happening to the energy when the rollercoaster is either climbing uphill or heading downhill.

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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