How the accelerator mass spectrometer works

Discover the process for analyzing trace isotopes in regular carbon atoms.

What makes an accelerator mass spectrometer capable of analyzing a trace isotope like radiocarbon, which is present in the environment at one-million-millionth the concentration of regular carbon atoms? How is it able to distinguish between two atoms that have virtually identical mass? Ian Clark, professor of Earth sciences at the University of Ottawa, explains how it all works.

This video is part of a feature story about the opening of the Advanced Research Complex at the University of Ottawa.

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Find more stories of research in action on Innovation.ca, the website of the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

 

What makes an accelerator mass spectrometer capable of analyzing a trace isotope like radiocarbon, which is present in the environment at one-million-millionth the concentration of regular carbon atoms? How is it able to distinguish between two atoms that have virtually identical mass? Ian Clark, professor of Earth sciences at the University of Ottawa explains how it works in this animated video.

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Canada Foundation for Innovation

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) was built on the ideals of thinking big and investing in areas that matter to Canadians. Since its creation in 1997, the CFI has ensured Canadian researchers have the tools — the cutting-edge labs, facilities and equipment — they need to push the frontiers of knowledge in all disciplines, and to contribute to the full spectrum of research — from discovery to technology development. 

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