How Does Slope Affect the Height of a Roller Coaster?

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Updated on Sep 30, 2013

Difficulty of Project


Grade Level




Safety Issues

The project should be supervised by an adult during the construction phase of the model roller coaster if plywood needs to be cut and nailed together.

Material Availability

The material for this project is readily available at a local hardware store and dollar stores.

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

1 Week


This investigation involves the comparison of the height and slope of a roller coaster to determine if there is a relationship or correlation between the height of the roller coaster and the slope of a constructed roller coaster.

Materials and Equipment

  • Plywood, approximately 1 foot long pieces
  • Marbles
  • Timer
  • Metric ruler
  • Protractor


The slope of a part of a roller coaster can be determined using a protractor to measure the angle of the slope compared to the ground. The slope of a part of the roller coaster can be varied by adjusting the height of the slope. In this investigation equal lengths of plywood will be assembled to create an adjustable slope and a second non-adjustable slope to connect to the initial slope. A marble will be placed on the summit of the initial adjustable slope and released from the slope to roll down the slope and travel from the initial slope and up the second slope and pass through the summit of the nonadjustable slope. By adjusting the angle of the initial slope, the initial slope will change. The investigation will assess what slope of angle is required to enable the marble to reach the summit of the nonadjustable slope.

Research Questions

  • What is potential energy?
  • What is kinetic energy?
  • How does height affect the potential energy of an object?
  • What is velocity?
  • What factors affect the velocity of an object?

Terms and Concepts to Start Background Research

  • Inertia
  • Kinetic energy
  • Momentum
  • Potential energy
  • Slope

The diagram illustrates a model of a roller coaster slope. The protractor is used to move the adjustable slope to an angle while the additional slope remains poised at the same angle throughout the experiment. A marble rests at the height of the adjustable arm.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Using a protractor, prop a piece of plywood at a 35 degree angle using some books. The plywood will function as the nonadjustable slope.
  2. Assemble the initial adjustable slope by connecting the base of a second piece of plywood to the nonadjustable slope.
  3. Elevate the initial adjustable plywood to an 80 degree angle creating a steep slope.
  4. Record the height of the elevated plywood and the angle of the slope.
  5. Place a marble at the summit of the adjustable slope and release the marble to permit the marble to run down the adjustable slope. Record the length of time it takes for the marble to travel and reach its destination. Record the distance the marble traveled across the adjustable and nonadjustable slopes.
  6. Repeat steps 3 to 5 with the following slopes: 70 degree, 60 degree, 50 degree, 40 degree, 30 degree, 20 degree, and 10 degree slopes.
  7. Plot the distance the marble traveled against the height of the adjustable slope to determine if there is a correlation between the height of a roller coaster and the slope.


  1. Amusement Park Physics © 1997-2010 Annenberg Media

Christine Ryder Combs, B.A. Honors Biochemistry, teaches high school Chemistry and Biology and serves as her school's science fair coordinator and science club sponsor. Since the development of an intensive science research program at her school, Christine has been nominated as an exemplary science teacher and has won awards for exemplary student participation at the regional science fair and recognized as teacher of the year.

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