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Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center exhibit explores science behind amusement parks

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The exhibit Amusement Park Science allows attendees to piece together their own roller coasters, left, and see if they actually work. Below, Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion are a primary part of the exhibit. (Staff Photo: Deanna Allen)

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Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion are a primary part of the exhibit. (Staff Photo: Deanna Allen)

IF YOU GO

• What: Amusement Park Science

• When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday through April 30

• Where: Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, 2020 Clean Water Drive, Buford

• Cost: Exhibit is included in center admission, which is $7.50 for adults, $5.50 for seniors and students ages 13 to 22 with a valid student ID, $3.50 for children ages 3 to 12 and free for children 2 and younger and GEHC members

• For more information: Call 770-904-3500 or visit gwinnettehc.org

It’s the slow — and for some, nerve-wracking — climb to the top of the first hill, then the hesitation before the cart starts its descent down the track followed by the first flips you feel in your stomach that make roller coasters so much fun.

An exhibit at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center explains some of the science behind roller coasters and other amusement park attractions. “Amusement Park Science” features exhibits and hands-on activities that illustrate the physics behind the fun.

“Amusement parks are just a really good example, a fun example, of a way of explaining those concepts,” said Cammie Fulmer, program supervisor for the center.

“(It’s) basically taking the science that people don’t really think about when they’re riding a roller coaster or experiencing some of the rides you would experience at an amusement park (and making it more easily understandable),” said Jason West, director of programming for the GEHC. “There are stations where (hands-on activities) highlight specific concepts of science.”

The exhibit highlights Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion using set-ups that simulate bumper cars, the Gravitron ride that’s popular at carnivals and other attractions.

“Some of them are more physical than others,” West said, referring to a spinning pole that demonstrates the principle of angular momentum. West used an example from the Winter Olympics to explain the concept.

“You think about when the figure skaters are spinning, as they kind of pull their bodies in, they’re spinning very fast,” he said, demonstrating spins. “If they stick their arm out or their leg out it slows down the momentum, so that’s the concept behind it.

“So kids will get up here and spin … and it makes you very, very dizzy,” he laughed.

The exhibit also features a K’Nex building station where children and families can build their own scaled-down models of rides, as well as a station where individuals can use wooden loops and hills to make a roller coaster and use a ping pong ball to find out if the combination works.

“There’s some fun in building some of your own models or replicas of different rides that you would see,” West said.

One of the stations illustrates the attraction and repulsion of magnets.

“A lot of traditional roller coasters, like the old wooden roller coasters, basically the cars are being brought up by a conveyor belt up to the top and then everything from there is gravity just pulling the coaster down,” Fulmer said. “But a lot of these newer roller coasters are using magnets to build up acceleration to do things that gravity won’t quite let them do.”

“Science is in everything that we do. That’s the primary concept of this,” West said. “People don’t think about that pretty much in everything that we do, in everything we touch in life, some type of science is connected to it. That’s the whole purpose of this exhibit. There is fun behind the physics.”