AAPT.org - American Association of Physics Teachers

Six Flags America Roller Coaster Design Contest

Physics Day 2010

Friday, April 24, 2015

Find out how you and your school can enter this exciting contest, read the rules and suggestions that follow.

We are encouraging schools to build and enter roller coaster models built by teams of students in either of the two grade categories: Grades 5-8 or Grades 9-12. Materials that seem logical include wood, wire, string, twine, doweling, toothpicks, cardboard, construction paper, glue, tape or other low cost items. Commercially available roller coaster kits are discouraged, although ideas obtained while building them might profitably be incorporated in the final design.

Roller coasters are called "gravity rides" for a good reason: once the coaster has been dragged to the top of the first hill and released, it is the force of gravity that keeps the coaster going all the way back to the station platform at the end of the ride. As the coaster goes through its twists, turns, rolls, and loops, it gains and loses its initial potential energy (supplied by dragging it up the first hill). Energy changes from potential into kinetic energy and back into potential energy. Since some of this initial energy is lost due to friction, the roller coaster can never rise as high as the first hill. The roller coaster you will design is also a "gravity ride".

In the "Spirit of the Competition," the key ingredients are creativity and application of science principles. Doing a great job is encouraged over spending lots of money to complete the project.

Roller coasters will judged based on three categories as explained below:

a. Technical Merit
b. Theme and Creativity
c. Most exciting to ride

First & Second Place Prizes will be awarded in the following categories:

a. Grades 5-8
b. Grades 9-12

Coaster Model Rules

(a) Size restrictions - the base must fit within a square footprint that is 75 cm x 75 cm. The overall track must fit within a rectangular box 75 cm x 75 cm x 100 cm high, including all decorations.
(b) The model should be designed for a steel ball or glass marble. This means that the steel ball or glass marble when released from the top of the first hill by the judge will travel through the entire ride, and arrive at the bottom loading platform. (Note: for this contest, you will raise the steel ball or glass marble by hand from the loading platform to the top of the first hill to start the "ride".)

(c) A ball must be provided by the team so that it can be tested on judging day. The ball must be either a glass marble of regular size or greater, or a steel ball that is 1 cm (1/2") in diameter or greater.

(d) Magnets, electricity, springs and other forms of energy may not be used - this is a "gravity ride" only. These other sources of energy can be used for esthetics (i.e., background lighting). No electricity is provided in the contest area.

(e) The starting position at the top of the first hill should be clearly marked. The steel ball or glass marble must end in a designated area or container.

(f) Each competing team can have a maximum of 4 students.

(g) The maximum number of teams from a school is 3.
(h) The decision of the judges is final. Any coaster that violates the rules above or the spirit of the competition will be disqualified.

Judging Criteria

Technical Score (50 pts)

Each model will be entitled to three runs. The longest time to go from the Start position to the Finish will be the official time for that model. (50 pts maximum) calculation

Bonus points for technical merit will be awarded for the following:

5 points per vertical loop. Vertical loop is defined as any time the "rider" is upside down on a loop of track that is within 10° of vertical (see illustration). If the vertical loop is a portion of a corkscrew (helix), it counts as a vertical loop. Horizontal loops do not add bonus points.

0-15 points may be awarded for degree of openness of track.

0-10 points may be awarded for novel engineering, including use of unusual materials, quality of workmanship, etc.

Theme (creativity) Score (25 pts)

The model roller coaster will be judged for its merits as a possible ride to be purchased by an amusement park. Selecting a theme is an essential element of a new ride. A score out of 25 will be awarded to each entry.

Rider Enjoyment (25 pts)

Each entry will be judged for rider enjoyment. A score out of 25 will be awarded to each entry.


(1) Each team must attach a 3" x 5" index card to the ride. The front of the card should include:

Name of the Roller Coaster

Grade Level (5-8 or 9-12)

The back of the card (not showing) should include:

School Name

Members of the Team with grade level

Teacher Name

Teacher's contact phone number

(2) Each team should download and complete the Entry/Scoring Form. Bring it with you to the model judging at Six Flags America.

Entry/Scoring Form (Word)
Entry/Scoring Form (PDF)

The contest rules were taken from Physics Day at Great America, Santa Clara, California. Visit the website at www.physicsday.org for more information.

Calculation of Points for Time

The points awarded for time will be based on the maximum time taken within the grade level (5-8, 9-12). Assume the maximum time was 15 seconds and your coaster took 9 seconds:

Points = 50 points x (your time / maximum time)

Points = 50 points x (9 sec / 15 sec) = 30 points

Calculation of Bonus Points

Bonus Points for technical merit will be awarded based on the following rubric:

Vertical Loops

1 = 5 pts

2 = 10 pts

3 = 15 pts

4 = 20 pts

Track Openness

Mostly closed = 0

∼25% open = 5 pts

∼50% open = 10 pts

>80% open = 15 pts


Nothing unusual = 0

Some novel materials = 3 pts

Several novel parts = 6 pts

Great deal of novel design = 10 pts

Calculation of Theme Points

Theme points will be awarded based on the following rubric:

Definite Theme

No theme = 0

Theme but little follow through = 3 pts

Theme throughout ride = 6 pts

Theme well done throughout = 10 pts

Would attract visitors

Wouldn't attract = 0



Strong attraction = 10 pts

Park would be able to construct

Very difficult to build = 0



Reasonable to build = 5 pts

Calculation of Rider Enjoyment Points

Rider Enjoyment points will be awarded based the following rubric:

"Realistic" Ride

Unrealistic for people = 0

Would be harsh for people = 1 pt

Would be generally reasonable = 3 pts

People would ride safely = 5 pts

High g-forces

Blase ride = 0

Very minor g-forces = 1 pt

1 good area = 3 pts

>1 area = 5 pts

Unexpected thrills

None = 0

Very minor thrills= 1 pt

1 good one = 3 pts

>1 good one = 5 pts

Would you want to ride it?

Definitely not = 0

Leaning towards not = 3 pts

Leaning towards yes = 6 pts

Definitely yes = 10 pts

The rubrics above are advisory only, and might be used by teachers as they work with their classes.