Physics class at 60 km/hr

By Chris Beauchamp

A group of high school students from across the province are getting some first-hand experience with physics–while hanging upside down and spinning in circles.

Around 500 Grade 11 and 12 students from schools as far away as Fernie, B.C. attended the first of two one-day courses at Calaway Park. Students were asked to complete a new workbook designed to help them understand the practical applications of basic physics.

“It was cool,” said Dr. Phil Langill, one of two University of Calgary professors who developed the workbook. “Groups of students would get off a ride, sit at a picnic table with their notebooks and start hacking away. I think some physics got done that day and I’m happy about that.”

The workbook was developed by Langill and Dr. Alfred Lauro, both of the U of C Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Students took measurements with some wearing a device called an accelerometer to measure the forces acting on their bodies during rides. The accelerometer measures G-forces and uses atmospheric pressure to calculate the subject’s altitude.

U of C graduate and undergraduate physics students also volunteered to help with the project.

“It went pretty well,” said Randall Stafford, a U of C physics graduate student. “Several of the students were just there to ride the rides, but quite a few were actually trying to understand the physics of what’s going on.”

The first session was held at the park Fri., May 27. A second session involving another 500 high school students is scheduled for Fri., Jun. 3.

Upon successful completion of the program students receive an honourary mini degree in rollercoaster-ology.

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