Science & Technology

Virtual Roller Coasters on Old Main

By Alyssa Chamberlain |

In the end, Young designed three different coasters, each named in a way that nods to Aggies everywhere: Scotsman's March, Big Bad Bull and Stampede.

Kyle Young describes himself as a roller coaster enthusiast. Having grown up in southern California with approximately five theme parks within an hour’s drive from his home, it seems only natural.

Upon arriving at Utah State University, Young began studying mechanical engineering with the vision of eventually designing roller coasters. After several semesters pursuing this course, he began to wonder whether it was the best fit for him and his career goals. Not only were the upper-level math courses becoming a challenge, but he had come to realize that he would be primarily designing structures or restraints as an engineer in the amusement park world. Although this is a vital component of any roller coaster, Young was more interested in the experience of coaster riders and park attendees than in the mechanics of the actual coaster.

Enter landscape architecture. Landscape architects plan, manage and nurture the built and natural world. By pursuing a degree in this field, Young would be able to put his efforts into the experiences that people have in the spaces he designs. Although not directly related to roller coasters, this was a path that was more aligned with his interests.

After making the switch to landscape architecture, Young found himself in the Advanced Geospatial and Visualization of the Environment (AGAVE) course. The AGAVE course introduces topics surrounding geographic information and geospatial technologies and explores their applications in the context of landscape architecture and environmental planning. When tasked with giving a presentation to the class on a technology that he was interested in, Young used the opportunity to explore how No Limits 2, a roller coaster design program, could be applied to landscape design.

This assignment motivated Young to talk with his instructor, associate professor Brent Chamberlain, about the possibility of implementing roller coasters into his final project for the class. Chamberlain was not only open to the idea but also had the idea of creating a roller coaster on Old Main using photogrammetry.

To get started on this process, they first flew a drone over Old Main. The drone took pictures of Old Main, the hill, the Quad and surrounding buildings. They then used Pix4D to process the images and create a 3D model of the area. From there, the model was exported into No Limits 2 and used as the surface for Young to design his roller coasters.

One of the most significant benefits of this method was the ability to capture the topography of the area, including the slope of the hill, existing trees and buildings. Young sees great value in designing with the existing landscape to add interest to the experience.

“I really wanted to design on the hill,” Young said. “I think roller coasters that are built around a terrain really add a lot.”

In the end, Young designed three different coasters, each named in a way that nods to Aggies everywhere. The Scotsman’s March is a classic wooden coaster geared toward families that uses the hill to gain speed. The Big Bad Bull is a suspended coaster, where riders sit in cars that hang from the track and swing around turns. Finally, Stampede is a modern steel coaster that begins with a launch over Old Main before diving underground and twisting and turning at speeds up to 75 miles per hour.

Although you won’t be finding any of these roller coasters on campus in real life, they each offer a new perspective of a familiar piece of campus and showcase the creativity and ingenuity of the USU campus community. As for Young, the roller coaster dream is still alive. He continues to explore what role a landscape architect may play in an amusement park and hopes to one day have a hand in how park goers interact with the built environment and how the roller coasters and other attractions affect that experience.


Alyssa Chamberlain
Development Research Assistant I


Brent Chamberlain
Assistant Professor
Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning


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