Roller coaster history can be traced back to 16th century Russia where people rode sleds down ice covered slides. Learn more about roller coaster history.

Benny Snyder/Associated Press

If you­'re studying physics, there are few more exhilarating classrooms than a roller coaster. Roller coasters are driven almost entirely by basic inertial, gravitational and centripetal forces, all manipulated in the service of a great ride. Amusement parks keep upping the ante, building faster and more complex roller coasters, but the fundamental principles at work­ remain the same.

In this article, we'll examine the principles that keep coaster cars flying around on their tracks. We'll also look at the hardware that ke­eps everything running, as well as the forces that make the ride so much fun.

The amusement-park industry has experienced a coaster boom of sorts in the past 15 years or so. New catapult launching techniques, hanging-train designs and other technological developments have opened up a world of options for designers. In recent years, designers have introduced coasters that have you lyi­ng flat against the train car so you feel as if you are flying, and coasters that shoot you down long stretches of spiraled track. "Fourth dimension" coasters spin or rotate your seat as the ride twists, turns and free-falls. In this article, we'll also keep you in the loop on all the newest features and innovations.­