Ask Dr. Cy Borg
Dr. Cy Borg is a microbiologist with superior sensory and intellectual capabilities. After a mishap in the laboratory in the year 2000, her sensory perception and original appendages were destroyed. But not for long. Science came to the rescue, replacing the scientist's traditional eyes with UV sensitive ones. Next, her two arms became four; her brain was enhanced with six nano-computers; and her body was shielded from further damage by smart armor. So, you can be sure this uber-intelligent scientist is ready for your borg-boggling question!
I would love to set my circuits spinning on your science question!
Write it down (don’t forget your full name and age!), then beam it to me at
How can scary amusement park rides like the roller coaster be fun for my friends? I try to have fun when we go, but I don’t really. The rides just scare me too much.
Mary Catherine, age 11, Belmont, NY
When you say that the roller coaster scares you too much, you probably don’t mean that you actually fear getting hurt. Roller coasters are very safe. But roller coasters are designed to make you feel afraid. You’re stuck in a tiny seat; you have no way to get off the ride once it starts; you hear ominous clicking and clacking as the car goes slowly up the hill, and you hear screams—from yourself and your fellow passengers—when the car plunges downward. Then there is the whipping around—left, right, up, down, sometimes even upside down. All of this makes for a very scary ride.
But beyond the fear in your head, you may dislike roller coasters because of how they make your body feel. First, let’s think about gravity. Your body is always feeling the effects of gravity. Normally earth’s gravity pulls on you with a g force of 1. In space, astronauts can float around at 0 g’s. On a roller coaster, you experience about 3.5 g’s on average, which is about the same force an astronaut feels on a space shuttle launch! With extra g’s affecting your body, your stomach gets squished flat. (Think about squeezing a tube of toothpaste to get the toothpaste out.) That’s one reason people throw up after roller coaster rides.
Then there’s your vestibular system, which deals with balance. During the roller coaster’s twists and turns, the fluid in your inner ear gets sloshed around. As the fluid crashes against sensory cells, your brain receives a lot of mixed-up information, which can help make you feel dizzy and nauseous. Your eyes, which are taking in a blur of scenery, and your joints and muscles, which are getting stiffened and relaxed in unfamiliar ways, also send disorienting information to your brain. People don’t all have the same reaction to this type of stimulation. Your friends may be able to ride roller coasters all day long and feel fine. Other people can’t even drive in a regular car without feeling sick. You may be somewhere in the middle.
If you want to persuade your friends to try other kinds of rides, you can tell them scientists have discovered that roller coasters can cause ear barotraumas (100 percent true!). You don’t have to tell them that this type of roller coaster injury is, a) very uncommon, and b) temporary.
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