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Physics, Science & Math Days
@ California's Great America
2022 - Coming Back!

Curricular Activities

Contests for 2022 *

First Timers Checklist

Planning Checklist

Frequently Asked Questions

Links (updated 10/21)


Click for PSM website



Physics, Science & Math Days

PSM Days are in the planning stage for 2022

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.

A Note

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 suggestions.

Dates for 2022

Fri, April 29.....Day #1
Fri, May 6
.....Day #2
Fri, May 13
.....Day #3
Fri, May 20
.....Day #4

Four days have been designated for PSM Days. Hopefully
 teachers will be able to work around state and national
 testing with these options.

When signups begin, we will post a copy of the information and signup sheet.

A Very 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. And in 2020 a fourth day has been added to work around the AP Testing and allow advanced physics students an opportunity to learn and enjoy the park.

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. 39 years and going strong!

Old Logo

What was new in 2019?

It's called RailBlazer, likely short for "Trail Blazer". A new concept: description written for the San Jose Mercury News.


As soon as we can put together a comprehensive worksheet for RailBlazer, it will get posted. The ride was not ready for PSM Days. It's open now and park visitors are giving it top rating!


The contests were fully updated for 2019. Planning is under way to determine which contests will be in operation in 2022, but you can count on Mars Lander and Graph Matching for two. Each has a pdf document that includes all the relevant rules. We encourage students and teachers to fully participate in these non-riding activities as well as going on as many rides as they can during your day at California's Great America.
Click on the link on the left-hand side of this page. Changes for 2022 will be posted once they are developed.

Big Change back in 2017 - Accelerometers!

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, a decision was made to permit use of the vests sold by Vernier Software & Technology and Pasco Scientific. Follow this link for some other tethering suggestions: Tethering Document

Come by the Graph Matching booth to check out an accelerometer to collect data on one or more rides here at the park. And to try your hand at figuring out what those "wiggles and squiggles" on the graphs mean.

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.

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.

A Resource
The 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 introduction to the book can be read here.

The book is available through AAPT and Vernier Software & Technology.

Physics Day Steering Committee
  October 12, 2021