Science on Tap talk to discuss ins and outs, ups and downs of roller coasters

May 22, 2015  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Two Purdue University mechanical engineering professors will discuss the fun, exciting and technical aspects of roller coasters at next week's Science on Tap.

The discussion, titled "On the Right Track: Exploring Engineering through the Prism of Roller Coaster Dynamics," is at 6 p.m. Thursday (May 28) in the upstairs of Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette.

The informal lecture, which is free and open to those 21 and older, is sponsored by the School of Mechanical Engineering, the College of Engineering and Discovery Park.

Jeffrey Rhoads, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, focuses his research on nonlinear dynamics and vibration, microscale sensors and actuators, and energetic materials.

"Few things capture the attention of children and adults alike more than roller coasters, but these summer standbys are more than pure attractions, they are engineered systems," Rhoads said.

Charles Krousgrill, a Purdue mechanical engineering professor for 30 years, researches dynamics, nonlinear vibration of continuous systems and stability analysis.

"This talk will explore the fun and technical aspects of roller coasters through a look at their modeling, analysis and design," Krousgrill said. "We'll describe how this exciting application area is being used at Purdue to encourage student learning and to spark student creativity - at even the most advanced levels."

In North America alone, there are 791 steel and wooden roller coasters. With summer on its way, many families and thrill seekers are traveling to theme parks to test their nerves on roller coasters.

This Science on Tap will inform people on what exactly causes the "sinking feeling" in your stomach during a drop, as well as the innovative designs that allow roller coasters to remain a cornerstone of theme parks.

Rhoads, who received his doctorate from Michigan State University, won the Ferdinand P. Beer and E. Russell Johnston Jr. Outstanding New Mechanics Educator Award in 2011. In 2014, he was the recipient of the ASME C. D. Mote Jr. Early Career Award by the ASME Technical Committee on Sound and Vibration. He is a two-time recipient of the School of Mechanical Engineering's student body selected Harry L. Solberg Best Teacher Award and a 2013 inductee into the Purdue Teaching Academy.

Krousgrill, who received his doctoral degree from Caltech, is a seven-time recipient of the School of Mechanical Engineering's Harry L. Solberg Best Teacher Award. He is a four-time recipient of the College of Engineering's Potter Best Teacher Award, a recipient of the university's Murphy Best Teacher Award and a founding member of the Purdue Teaching Academy.

Science on Tap, led by graduate students Nelda Vazquez, Andrew Hesselbrock and Paula Cooper, provides Purdue faculty and collaborating researchers the opportunity to share research activities in an informal setting with presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first four years.  

Writers: Mallory Bilski, 219-805-2601,

Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, 

Sources: Jeffrey Rhoads, 765-494-5630,

Charles Krousgrill, 765 49-45738,

Nelda Vazquez, 765-496-1487,

Andrew Hesselbrock,

Paula Cooper, 

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