Nathalie Darden, Assistant Department Chair and Assistant Professor in the Mathematics Department, shared her love of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) with Freehold Regional School District high school students last month. She presented her hands-on activity to approximately 90 self-declared STEM students who were charged with building a roller coaster.

“The roller coaster activity is a great way to introduce students to the creative, design side of engineering,” said Darden.

The students participated in the Engineering Mini Academy, sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE) and Women In Engineering (WIE). It is a program designed to introduce students to the different disciplines in engineering and is held every Wednesday night for six weeks.

The students enjoyed the roller coaster building challenge that Darden researched on the DiscoverE website, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping students become interested in engineering. Darden explained the challenge was to create a structurally sound roller coaster with a marble completing the 9-foot track through a loop and over a hill, while maintaining low cost for their client.

The website listed the necessary materials but no instructions on how to build it. Darden said it took two weekends to construct a working design, create the different material and design options, and to generate a cost associated with each construction material. Almost all items used to build the roller coaster are commonly found in the household recycling bin: paper towel cardboard rolls, toilet paper cardboard rolls, empty bar soap boxes and (unused) paper cups.

The activity is a fun way for students to learn the broader aspects of civil engineering including structural integrity and cost effectiveness. It also allows students to identify the physics’ principles of friction, acceleration, potential energy, kinetic energy, centripetal force, inertia, and momentum.

CAPTION: Brookdale student William Rushing (center in blue shirt) helps Manalapan High School Engineering Mini Academy students with their roller coaster build challenge.