“If you show students the fun engineering applications of physics, all of a sudden learning the fundamentals becomes more enjoyable.” So says Purdue University assistant professor of mechanical engineering Jeffrey Rhoads who, together with mechanical engineering professor Charles Krousgrill, started a roller- coaster dynamics course at the university this year.

“It’s not unusual in this class for the majority of students to stay after class for 15 to 20 minutes talking about what was discussed that day,” Krousgrill said. “In a typical engineering class, when the class is dismissed there is a stampede towards the door.”

Rhoads and Krousgrill set loose GPA and prerequisite requirements for students interested in taking the course. They were initially concerned that these measures might spell disaster and lead to many students dropping out, but just the opposite happened. Because the students had already mastered basic physics, they were able to understand the material. “The idea was to pair a student who had taken more prerequisites with a student who had less experience,” Krousgrill said. “This was a real success. They worked together well, and students learned from each other.”

The course provides an edge for students seeking internships or jobs with companies that design and manufacture amusement-park rides.

“Coursework covers designing roller coasters from scratch and also using computational software that enables students to worry less about mathematics and more about creative design,” Rhoads said. “If they went out and got an internship or a job in this field, they would likely use software of this type.”

Edited by Leland Teschler