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Engineering Thrills

Do you love roller coasters?

A lot of engineering goes into making today’s gravity-defying rides both exciting and safe.

There are some 450 amusement parks and other attractions with roller coasters in the United States, according to an Ohio State University infographic. And they rely on 100 companies, each with a team of 10 to 15 engineers, to design, build, upgrade, and maintain their roller coasters.

Theme parks like Disney World rely on computer engineers to model new designs and calculate such things as rider spacing, friction and mass, and curve sizes. Industrial, civil, and structural engineers are needed to build sound structures that reduce friction without compromising safety or sturdiness. Kent Seko originally wanted to be an architect but he ended up joining Arrow Dynamics, a roller coaster design company, as a draftsman and worked his way up, according to a profile on In 1989, he helped the firm design and build the world’s first 200-foot tall “hyper-coaster,” the Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point in Ohio.

Read Popular Science’s 2015 Q&A with Alan Schilke, who designed the first wood-and-steel hybrid coaster to complete an inverted barrel roll.

Future amusement park rides will need all sorts of engineers and technologists, including electrical and mechanical, to create new 3-D and virtual reality experiences.


No matter what, the laws of physics still apply – so no matter what kind of engineer you become, you’ll need to know the difference between kinetic and potential energy!

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