Friday, July 13, 2012

Defying Gravity

Today was the long-awaited trip to Hershey Park. I looked forward to this all week, because I love rollercoasters, but not everyone was quite so keen to whip through the air at high speeds. Jessica, our fellow group member and friend, loves rollercoasters but is always nervous about falling out. Bill reassured all of us yesterday about the safety of coasters. He jokingly told us that the real thrill ride was the bus ride to Hershey, as we don't have seatbelts and aren't bolted to the road, while on a rollercoaster you're in a harness, your car is secured to the track, and you ought to have enough force to stay on the track on those upside down loops anyways. I'm not sure whether or not his words of wisdom worked, but I thought that he was pretty hilarious.

Thankfully, there were no thrills involved going nor returning from Hershey. The two-hour bus ride was quiet, which is to be expected when you ask 40 teenagers to wake up to go somewhere at 8 AM. However, the energy picked up considerably as we approached the park. The class split up into our ride groups, collected our GLX’s, and headed off towards our rides of choice.

My group chose a wooden rollercoaster called Wildcat. We lucked out because there weren’t any lines for our ride, so we were able to collect all of our data fairly quickly and return our equipment. There was one scary moment when we couldn't figure out how to download one of our data sets onto our flashdrive, but luckily Craig came along and rescued us. We haven’t analyzed our data yet, but I’m very excited to examine the changes in acceleration and altitude later.

We rode four different rides: Fahrenheit, Sooper Dooper Looper, Great Bear, and The Claw. Fahrenheit is famous for its 97˚ drop, and we were really looking forward to trying it. As we stared straight up into the sky on the ascent, I realized that this was a little bit like being in a rocket, like Dr. Thomas was describing a few days ago. I realize that this like comparing a cherry tomato to an heirloom variety, but it was still exciting to make references from physics class to things going on in real life. Sooper Dooper Looper was much tamer than Fahrenheit, except for the part in the middle that gave the ride its name–an almost perfectly circular loop, causing greater amounts of acceleration than the typical teardrop shaped loops. Great Bear was one of those roller coasters where the seats attach from the top and your legs swing free. As we twisted and flew through the sky, I reflected that physics at UPenn is the best class ever. Where else would I get the opportunity to go to an amusement park, not just for fun but to learn?

Jessica and Clara relax after a long day of standing in lines and screaming on rollercoasters
Along with our day passes, we each received a meal coupon. After studious consideration of the different options available, my group decided to go to Decades. My lunch was much better than I was expecting, and we had wisely decided to wait until we were done with rides to eat so that we wouldn’t get sick to our stomachs. Once we were done, we hurried back to the meeting point so that we would make it back to UPenn in time to go to the movies. Everyone made it back on time, which was apparently the first time this had happened in the fifteen years that Bill has been taking kids there.

Going to Hershey Park was an awesome experience. I’ve never been to such a big amusement park with so many roller coasters and other rides; I read somewhere that there were 25 kiddie rides alone! The lines, although long, weren’t as bad as I was expecting and the rides were all worth the wait. Physics obviously lends itself well to making life-to-classroom connections, and it doesn’t get much more exciting than using an amusement park to study motion.

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