College student to present roller-coaster research April 17

SUNY Oswego senior Katharyn Christiana works with her precision model of a roller coaster in preparation for a scholarly presentation April 17 on thrill-ride dynamics at the college’s Quest symposium.

SUNY Oswego senior Katharyn Christiana works with her precision model of a roller coaster in preparation for a scholarly presentation April 17 on thrill-ride dynamics at the college’s Quest symposium.

Little did SUNY Oswego senior Katharyn Christiana know it at the time, but her family’s frequent trips to Disney World when she was a child would set her on a roller-coaster path to a college major and research subject she will present at the Quest April 17.

Christiana and her mentor and co-author, physics faculty member Dr. Carolina Ilie, have studied the mechanics of thrill rides with the aid of a working model of a roller coaster that Christiana has built.

The Kingston native will make a presentation on roller coaster dynamics at Quest, the college’s daylong celebration of scholarly and creative activity.

“I once went to Disney four times in a year,” said Christiana, who has been accepted for a University of Rochester graduate program in engineering and business and is waiting to hear from two universities with mechanical-engineering master’s programs.

“You start developing favorites among the rides,” Christiana said. “They have books in the parks about how Disney Imagineers design them. I’m the nerd that has to know everything about how things work.”

The physics major has gone further with that passion than most. With Ilie’s encouragement and the support of a SUNY Oswego Student-Faculty Collaborative Challenge Grant, Christiana has a senior thesis in progress: roller coasters, their history, design challenges, physical forces and the sensations the physics give riders.

Christiana ordered a kit for a precision working model of a roller coaster, then has systematically set about learning all she could about coasters. It hasn’t all been a joy ride.

“I made it and it worked, then it didn’t run and I made certain customizations,” Christiana said recently. “Then a part dried out and I’m trying to fix it.”

Ilie’s own passion for physics and mentoring fuel Christiana’s own determination, as she understands the rigorous and constant testing it takes to bring a roller coaster design to life and keep it running.

“She read all about the safety aspects engineers need to think about,” Ilie said. “What are the challenges? The main challenge is money, as everywhere. So how do you have maximum safety for budgeted money?”

Quest will be Christiana’s third scholarly presentation on roller coasters.

She spoke last fall on health and safety of thrill rides at a Rochester Academy of Science symposium at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, then recently made a presentation to the American Physical Society’s undergraduate division in Baltimore.

“That was an experience,” she said of APS. “I’ve never been around quite that many physicists before.”

Christiana has her sights set on someday becoming a Disney Imagineer.

“I realized that Imagineers think a little bit differently,” she said of her childhood — now adult — passion for how thrill rides work. “It was a lot like me: I’d watch a Disney movie and say, ‘That would be a neat idea for a ride design.’ Then I heard that people get paid to do this and I thought, ‘Cool — that would be the best!’”

Parking is free April 17 for visitors to Quest, when hundreds of talks, panel discussions, demonstrations and concurrent events will take place largely in the Campus Center and nearby Lanigan and Snygg halls.

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