Wilmette, Community

Recent Loyola graduate brings engineering passions to new heights

Parker Lofstrom-Austin’s shows off roller coaster to classmates

One Loyola Academy senior created a last ride to remember days before graduation.

Parker Lofstrom-Austin, who just graduated in May, and his fully functional roller coaster, Polaris, took to Loyola’s McGrath Family Performing Arts Center on May 13. Lofstrom-Austin presented his coaster to provide fellow physics and engineering students with insight into his complex process behind its construction.

As a roller coaster enthusiast, Lofstrom-Austin notes that he has always had a passion for rides and began developing his own designs at a young age. The idea for Polaris took off as a final project for his MakerTech class at Loyola, where he built the one-car coaster for a design he had been working on outside of school.

He began designing the track by updating his previous designs, and by the end of the summer of 2023, Lofstrom-Austin had the completed model. After conversations with the science department, he offered to disassemble and bring in the roller coaster and present it to his peers.

Lofstrom-Austin with his coaster on the stage in the McGrath Family Performing Arts Center at Loyola.

According to Lofstrom-Austin, approximately 800 students attended his presentation throughout the school day. His goal was to share what he had done and inspire others to see the translation from physics concepts to tangible work.

“I honestly find it very rewarding to share my projects and what I like to do,” Lofstrom-Austin said. “What I really wanted to do, especially for freshmen, even sophomores, was to say a job does not have to just be sitting in a cubical doing finance. There’s so many cool things that you can do with your talents.” 

During his presentation, Lofstrom-Austin told his classmates how he applied scientific principles and concepts such as momentum, energy forces and fluid dynamics. He explained his reasoning behind every aspect of the model, down to the detail.

“This presentation offered a valuable learning opportunity for our students,” Science Department Chair Marissa Cervantes said in an article published by Loyola Academy. “It allowed them to witness firsthand the fruits of Parker’s labor and to be inspired by his passion and dedication.”

When it comes to roller coasters, Lofstrom-Austin is primarily self-taught, and Polaris was built on his own time using his own resources.

This served as an opportunity to translate his skills and the concepts learned in Loyola physics and engineering courses into a real-world example. 

“You don’t just have to take a test on how the physics works; these things actually apply to the real world,” he said. “They’re real. They’re not just classroom ideas.”

Lofstrom-Austin presents Polaris to an audience on May 13.

He leaned into sophisticated engineering software, including Fusion 360, to design the coaster. Then, the coaster was manufactured at MHub Chicago — a local community of engineers — using a computer numerical control router to precisely cut the wooden pieces.

The result is a fully functioning roller coaster made from plywood. The coaster features an air-compressed launch, an airtime bunny hill and a zero-gravity spike. In total, it is 70 feet long and reaches 26 feet at its peak. 

The air-compressed launch is modeled after Maxx Force at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee. At its maximum functionality, Lofstrom-Austin’s launch can reach astonishing speeds.

It accelerates in about 0.75 seconds to 32 miles per hour, which is around 3.3 G’s of acceleration,” he explained.

The 2024 Loyola graduate will be taking his skills to Purdue University this fall. He will major in mechanical engineering. He is looking forward to focusing on roller coaster development in college.

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