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[STEEL Talk] Why Are All the Thrill Rides in Amusement Parks Made with Steel?


STEEL Talk presents to you interesting stories of Science, Technology, Energy, Environment, Life — and of course STEEL!

“Amusement park,” the word alone is enough to put a smile on your face. It’s a perfect place to take pictures, eat delicious food, and make pleasant memories with friends and family. The rides in the amusement parks are mostly made of steel. Especially, steel is a must in making thrill rides, such as a Drop Tower, which enables you to experience free-fall from top to bottom in the blink of an eye, and super-fast roller coasters. POSCO Newsroom presents to you the story of steel hidden in the rides of the amusement parks.

l Safety, the No.1 Priority in Thrill Rides!

Just looking at the thrill rides makes you feel all excited! Amusement rides must be safe and strong since people ride on them, but at the same time, they should be made with a material that can work properly according to circumstances and last for a long time. The material that satisfies all of these conditions is none other than “steel.” Let’s dive into the details!

l Roller Coaster: Enjoy the Safety & Fun on the Steel Tube Rail!

Did you know that the origin of the roller coaster is a wooden coal truck? There is a hidden story of how the roller coaster became the steel cart of today from the former wooden carts.

The roller coaster, which is one of the must-visit spots in an amusement park, originates from trains that used to carry coal mines in the Bavarian region of Germany. It was found that when people rode on the wooden minecart — a cart with no top cover used to transport coals — from a high place to a low one, they could relieve their stress. In 1851, the concept of this roller coaster was introduced at the “World’s Fair” held in London, England.

However, the wooden roller coaster introduced at the “World’s Fair” had disadvantages of being deformed and corroded by exposure to ultraviolet rays. Due to this reason, modern roller coasters were born made of steel.

Later on, as the steel industry developed, La Marcus Thompson installed the first modern roller coaster, “Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway,” in New York, 1884. This first roller coaster in the U.S. was set up in New York’s theme park in Coney Island, and it became so popular that, in the 1920s, about 2,000 roller coasters were installed throughout the U.S.

However, with the Great Depression in 1929, two World Wars, and the emergence of new entertainment industries, such as TV and movies, the popularity of roller coasters began to fade. In the U.S., the number of roller coasters, which was formerly near 2,000, reduced to 172 in 1970. But they soon boomed again, as the modern steel technology made it possible to construct roller coasters with steel tube rails, which led to a huge structure providing faster speed with enhanced stability.

In the third story of STEEL Talk, we learned about why the amount of carbon (C) in steel is important. As carbon contents in steel increase, its hardness — resistance to pressure — increases as well, but it becomes fragile and doesn’t easily stretch. Conversely, the less carbon contents in steel, the more flexible and stretchable it becomes. So, it is necessary to adjust the hardness of the steel product with the amount of carbon depending on its use nor to add other elements accordingly. Thanks to this versatile properties, the types of steel have become more diverse, and its performance is also improving day by day.

▲ source: World Steel Association (worldsteel)

Steel is playing a crucial part in designing roller coasters that require appropriate engineering skills. Various high-performance steels, such as construction steel and specialized steel, are used in roller coasters. Watch the worldsteel video above to grasp the details.

Except for certain types of roller coasters where wood is used, there is no substitute for steel in making roller coasters.

l Magnets Behind Drop Tower Seats?

The Lotte World Gyro Drop is probably the most familiar Drop Tower ride in Korea. It is a thrill ride that has been popular in Korea since its first appearance in 1998. There is an interesting scientific principle behind this Gyro Drop ride with regard to the “magnetic properties” of steel.

If you’ve ever been on the Gyro Drop, you might have experienced the tension and anxiety of not knowing when you will drop once you get to the top of the Gyro Drop. However, in a few seconds, you are soon filled with the thrill of dropping suddenly and the relief of reaching the ground! Many people love this ride because of this excitement. The reason why the Gyro Drop can drop down and land at the bottom safely is because of steel’s “magnetic properties.”

If you put metal between the N pole and the S pole of the magnet, an electric current flows instantaneously, and the metal becomes magnetic. As a magnetic field is generated around this metal, the magnetic field of the metal and the magnetic field of the magnet repel each other. The Gyro Drop uses this repulsive force as a brake.

The safety of the people on the ride is paramount, so the brakes on the Gyro Drop must work at all times, even when the amusement park suddenly goes out of power. Especially since the Gyro Drop falls at high speed, brakes that utilize frictional force aren’t appropriate because they might wear out when used for a long time. Then what kind of a brake is safe to use?

There are 12 horseshoe-shaped magnets behind the Gyro Drop’s seats and 12 metal plates on the central tower column. When the seats reach the top (about 70 m from the ground) and drop quickly, the magnet attached to the back meets the metal plates on the central tower column at 25 meters above the ground. An instantaneous current flows through the metal in the tower column, and as it becomes magnetic, a strong repulsive force is generated between them. Due to this repulsive force, the Gyro Drop can be stopped without any external force or physical contact! Isn’t it amazing?

Nothing is more important than safety for the rides in amusement parks. And the material responsible for this safety is none other than “steel.” If it weren’t for steel, there would be no thrill rides or amusement parks. Next time you’re on a ride, remember the hidden story behind it!

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