Physics, Science & Math
@ California's Great America
Contests for 2015
2015 Map w/ Schedule
Click for PSM website
Physics, Science & Math Days
Imagine 10,000 students at California's Great America,
armed with worksheets, calculators and accelerometers,
all taking part in one of the largest physics lab
activities in the world - Amusement Park Physics.
Where can the experimenter step into the experiment and
subject him/herself to forces in excess of 3 G's? Where
can they experience zero-G and live to tell the tale?
Where can they verify the PHYSICS they've been learning
all year long? Where else but at California's Great
America on Physics, Science, and Math Days.
Students at California's Great America have access to
one of the world's largest laboratories for carrying our
real-world science experiments. While on the rides, they
experience a dizzying array of forces. Where did they
feel which kind of force? And ultimately, why did they
feel those particular forces there?
The beauty of Physics, Science and Math Days
lies in linking classroom theory with the reality of
what happens on multiple-g rides like Vortex and Drop
Tower. We encourage teachers to prepare their students
to make the most out of the opportunity that is present
at Physics, Science and Math Days. Choose
quality activities that will engage them and help them
to learn more about the science behind their amusement
park experience. That is why we've prepared this website
that is jam-packed with activities, hints, tips and
Dates for 2016
Dates for next spring
PSM Day 1
Fri, April 29, 2015
PSM Day 2
Fri, May 6, 2015
PSM Day 3
Fri, May 13, 2015
order form is
still available on this website to use as a guide
for pre-planning. Prices may change for 2016, so
make sure you get the final form when it's
A Brief History
Physics Day at Great America was started in 1983 by Don
Rathjen from Foothill High School. Initially, he brought
his physics students to the park on a normal operating
day. In the second year, he brought three other teachers
and their physics students to Great America, armed with
accelerometers and calculators to study the physics
behind roller coasters.
Over the years, Physics Day grew until the park opened
up on a non-operating day, exclusively for physics
students. The number of students grew, and the number of
middle school science students attending the park had
also grown. Two separate days were scheduled, one for
high school physics, the other for middle school
science. In 1995, a third day was added to accommodate
math students who explore applications of mathematics in
the real world.
Physics Day, now Physics, Science & Math Days,
has been in continuous operation since 1983. It's one of
the only special days of its type where the park is open
just for students and teachers for educational purposes.
33 years and going strong!
A steering committee of physics, science and math
teachers has developed materials that are published for
students and teachers, including these resources for
teachers and students. The committee worked closely with
the park to improve these special days, and conducted an
annual Teacher Orientation. The Special Events
Department at California's Great America works hard to
make these days a success for teachers and students from
throughout Northern California and as far north as
British Columbia, Canada.
What was new for 2014?
A new, large, woody made its
way to California's Great America last year, and was in
operation during PSM Days. It is the tallest and fastest
wooden coaster in Northern California. Click on the logo
to the right to see a page devoted to the new ride.
Photos, renderings and an animated video are included so
you can see what's in store for everyone. A sample
worksheet is also included.
Other changes will be put into place for PSM Days in 2016.
Check back here for details. Also for updated contest
rules and procedure.
Updated listing of the contests and the 2015
rules available. Some slight changes may be
implemented for 2016. Check back here in early 2016
for final versions.
Note: The park specifically permits the
use of measuring devices for determining accelerations and
forces on the rides. The devices, manual or electronic,
must be tethered to the student
or they will not be allowed on rides. However, the vests
sold by Vernier Software & Technology and Pasco
Scientific are prohibited. Follow the link for some
Many years past, Great America printed out a packet of
activities, shrink-wrapped it and distributed it with the
tickets sent to schools in the spring. Subsequently, the
entire packet was converted to electronic form and
available on a CD that was distributed with the school's
tickets. Now the entire packet is online and available by
following the "Curricular Activities" link above left, or
by clicking on this link: Activity
If you have an activity that you've developed for PSM
Days, and would like to share it with other teachers and
students, please attach it and send it to the webmaster. Credit will be given for
ideas that are included on this website.
By the way, NBC has published a website on the science
behind many Winter Olympics events. Check out the video on
Halfpipe and you'll see some of the same reasoning as that
behind the shape of vertical loops on roller coasters.
The physicsday.org webmaster completed a re-write of the
AAPT handbook on Amusement Park Physics in 2011. This
second edition contains many very useful items for first
timers and old timers alike. You will see references to
California's Great America throughout the book including
data from some of our rides.
The book is available through AAPT
Software & Technology.