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published by the WGBH Educational Foundation
This short video was created to demystify the process of the center-seeking centripetal force and how it acts to keep objects moving along a curved path. The video uses footage of a looping roller coaster and a high school student swinging a cup of water around his head without spilling. It's a well-balanced, engaging explanation of what makes a roller coaster rider feel pinned to the seat -- it's not just the seat belt, it's centripetal force pushing the cars downward toward the center of the loop. Resource includes background information and discussion questions.

PBS Learning Media is a growing collection of videos, lessons, and activities assembled by researchers, scientists, and experienced teachers to promote the use of digital resources in the classroom.

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Editor's Note: Why we like it -- this video does a remarkably good job of explaining why you feel a sensation of being thrown outward from the center during circular motion, although there is no outward net force. It will help students differentiate centripetal force from the fictitious "centrifugal force". See Related Materials for a video from the International Space Station that demonstrates centripetal force in a weightless environment.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
- Fundamentals
= Gravity
Classical Mechanics
- Applications of Newton's Laws
- Motion in Two Dimensions
= Central Forces
- Newton's First Law
= Inertia in Motion
Education Practices
- Technology
= Multimedia
- High School
- Middle School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
- Audio/Visual
= Movie/Animation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Activity
- New teachers
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Intended Users:
General Public
Access Rights:
Free access
© 2008 WGBH Educational Foundation
angular velocity, centripetal acceleration, circular motion, gravitational acceleration
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created November 19, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 19, 2020 by Lyle Barbato

Next Generation Science Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Forces and Motion (PS2.A)
  • Each force acts on one particular object and has both strength and a direction. An object at rest typically has multiple forces acting on it, but they add to give zero net force on the object. Forces that do not sum to zero can cause changes in the object's speed or direction of motion. (Boundary: Qualitative and conceptual, but not quantitative addition of forces are used at this level.) (3)
  • The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. The greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion. (6-8)
  • Newton's second law accurately predicts changes in the motion of macroscopic objects. (9-12)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Cause and Effect (K-12)
  • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems. (6-8)
Systems and System Models (K-12)
  • A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions. (3-5)
Structure and Function (K-12)
  • Structures can be designed to serve particular functions. (6-8)
Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology (K-12)
  • Knowledge of relevant scientific concepts and research findings is important in engineering. (3-4)
Science is a Human Endeavor (3-12)
  • Science affects everyday life. (3-4)

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4B. The Earth
  • 6-8: 4B/M3. Everything on or anywhere near the earth is pulled toward the earth's center by gravitational force.
4F. Motion
  • 3-5: 4F/E1bc. The greater the force is, the greater the change in motion will be. The more massive an object is, the less effect a given force will have.
  • 6-8: 4F/M3a. An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.
  • 6-8: 4F/M3b. If a force acts towards a single center, the object's path may curve into an orbit around the center.
  • 9-12: 4F/H1. The change in motion (direction or speed) of an object is proportional to the applied force and inversely proportional to the mass.
  • 9-12: 4F/H2. All motion is relative to whatever frame of reference is chosen, for there is no motionless frame from which to judge all motion.

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Kinematics: The Physics of Motion
Unit Title: The Case of Roller Coasters

This short video does a great job of demonstrating centripetal force and how it acts to keep objects moving along a curved path. What makes a rider on a roller coaster feel a sensation of being thrown outward from the center during a loop, although there is no outward net force? The video serves to help beginners understand the dynamics of circular motion.

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Record Link
AIP Format
(WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2008), WWW Document, (https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfw.roller/centripetal-force-roller-coaster-loops/).
PBS Learning Media: Centripetal Force - Roller Coaster Loops, (WGBH Educational Foundation, Boston, 2008), <https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfw.roller/centripetal-force-roller-coaster-loops/>.
APA Format
PBS Learning Media: Centripetal Force - Roller Coaster Loops. (2008). Retrieved January 18, 2022, from WGBH Educational Foundation: https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfw.roller/centripetal-force-roller-coaster-loops/
Chicago Format
WGBH Educational Foundation. PBS Learning Media: Centripetal Force - Roller Coaster Loops. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2008. https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfw.roller/centripetal-force-roller-coaster-loops/ (accessed 18 January 2022).
MLA Format
PBS Learning Media: Centripetal Force - Roller Coaster Loops. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2008. 18 Jan. 2022 <https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfw.roller/centripetal-force-roller-coaster-loops/>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PBS Learning Media: Centripetal Force - Roller Coaster Loops}, Publisher = {WGBH Educational Foundation}, Volume = {2022}, Number = {18 January 2022}, Year = {2008} }
Refer Export Format

%T PBS Learning Media: Centripetal Force - Roller Coaster Loops %D 2008 %I WGBH Educational Foundation %C Boston %U https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfw.roller/centripetal-force-roller-coaster-loops/ %O application/flash

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D 2008 %T PBS Learning Media: Centripetal Force - Roller Coaster Loops %I WGBH Educational Foundation %V 2022 %N 18 January 2022 %9 application/flash %U https://oeta.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/phy03.sci.phys.mfw.roller/centripetal-force-roller-coaster-loops/

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PBS Learning Media: Centripetal Force - Roller Coaster Loops:

Same topic as PBS Learning Media: Teaching from Space - Centripetal Force

Five-minute video of an astronaut in the weightless environment of the International Space Station, demonstrating centripetal force without the complicating interaction of gravity.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is Supplemented By Physics Classroom: Centripetal Force

Detailed explanation of centripetal force and its relationship to Newton's Law of Inertia. Includes illustrations, animation, and self-paced study questions.

relation by Caroline Hall

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