Disney Imagineer to Give Lectures on Roller Coaster Design

Posted: March 2, 2009

By Matthew Caracciolo
This spring, students interested in the design and engineering aspects of roller coasters will have the chance to learn from someone with a unique experience in the industry.

The Theme Park Engineering Group will host Ohio State alumnus Bill Watkins, a former Disney Imagineer who earned his mechanical engineering degree in 1953. Watkins will offer a four-night lecture series April 13-16, when he will discuss his experiences designing the universally known Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain rides at the Disney theme parks.

“He’s starting pretty much from scratch,” says group treasurer Brad Engel, a third-year mechanical engineering student, “explaining what he did to design the attractions at Disney — everything from the physics to the effects of G forces on people riding the rides, as well as how to design the ride toward what guests want.”

The Theme Park Engineering Group, established two years ago, has made it a point to invite guest speakers to campus. Aside from listening to lecturers, the group members also make trips to nearby amusement parks to meet with maintenance engineers and work on their own side projects on campus.
“Our major project right now is building a 10-foot model of Power Tower from Cedar Point,” adds Engel, “but modifying it so that the cars spin while shot up and down.”

The team recently completed the structure design phase and is in the process of starting construction on the tower.
Watkins has had the idea of presenting a course related to roller coasters for a couple of years.

“I feel it is an interesting way to apply those things that students have learned in their mathematics, physics, mechanics and design courses,” notes Watkins.

The lecture series is open to all who are interested, regardless of major. Everyone admitted to the lecture will receive a course packet featuring some of Watkins’ own drawings and designs, along with the opportunity to win free food and prizes.

The lectures will not count for credit and will last approximately an hour and a half each night.

Contact okeson.2@osu.edu to sign up for the lecture series. The sign-up deadline is March 20, with space limited to 50 people.