Thursday, May 5, 2011

Science of Disney Imagineering: Gravity

What goes up must come down.  We've all heard that saying before but this week we've actually begun to study the concept of Gravity with another Disney educational DVD.  We don't usually think about gravity because we've always been exposed to it.   The imagineers discover ways to mani

Asa's Invention:    Fond memories of watching men tossing and twirling pizza dough lead Asa to create a robotic counterpart for a restaurant in Tomorrowland.  After testing the machine several times he is left with several splotches of goo stuck to the ceiling above him and with time he is dodging the dough-bombs as they fall.

Defined Terms:  gravity, 1 G,  air resistance, friction, freefall, centrifuge, centripical force, Newton's 1st and 2nd laws of motion

Disney Rides and Attractions that exemplify the theme:

At first you may not think of Mission Space as a gravity ride but the imagineers use centripical force to alter our perceptions of gravity.  The backs of our seats begin pushing us towards the axis of the ride (simulating high g's of a launch) and when the spinning motion stops we misinterpret the lack of force as the weightlessness of outer space.  Asa does the famous spinning a bucket of water trick to model the ride.

Next we head to the Matterhorn Bobsleds, the first steel tube track created.  We learn about the need for a lift hill to take the cars up to a point where we can let gravity pull us down along a predetermined course of twists and turns.  "Falling with style" as Sherriff Woody might say.  Asa and another imagineer also discuss Newton's 1st and 2nd laws of motion.  An object in motion stays in motion--and in a straight line.  Because the curves in the track force us out of that straight line we really notice the changes when we go around corners.

Next we see a montage of other Disney coasters: Rockin' Rollercoaster, Expedition Everest, Space Mountain and Califormia Screamin'.  The imagineers discuss the best places to sit to enhance different aspects of the ride.  Everybody is going over the same track but there's something called the long train effect that makes the ride a little different from front to back.  Do you want to esperience the most g's?  Then sit in the front of Rockin' Rollercoaster.  Do you want the greatest speed going down hill?  Then the back seat is your best choice.  (Incidently, this is how I first inticed my son to try his first roller coaster.  We sat in the very front row because I knew we would be halfway down the hill before the train started to pick up speed and momentum).

And of course you know we couldn't leave the subject of gravity without talking about the Tower of Terror.  If the ride just hoisted you up to the top and let you freefall, you would travel at the same speed as your seat and it wouldn't really be that thrilling.  The imagineers attached a cable to the bottom of the car so they can pull it down faster than the force of gravity.  This makes your seat fall out from under you for a heart-stopping moment.

The Quiz:  15 questions

Try It Yourself:  Okay, this time I think the imagineers were a little too ambitious when they give us the instructions for building our own hovercraft.  It's an expensive project and my 8 year old son can't use power tools.  However, we homeschooler have been known to do some pretty crazy labs and experiments.  If your kids know how to handle shop tools I think you could earn cool parent for life points here and be named the best house on the block.

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