How the accelerator mass spectrometer works

1980 to present
Ottawa, Ontario
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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.

View the image gallery.

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