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An accelerator mass spectrometer, although a powerful tool, is also a costly one.
Establishing and maintaining an accelerator mass spectrometer costs millions of dollars.
In mass analysis, a magnetic field is applied to these moving charged particles, which causes the particles to deflect from the path they are traveling.
If the charged particles have the same velocity but different masses, as in the case of the carbon isotopes, the heavier particles are deflected least.
At the end of an AMS run, data gathered is not only the number of carbon 14 atoms in the sample but also the quantity of carbon 12 and carbon 13.
Accelerator mass spectrometers need only as little as 20 milligrams and as high as 500 milligrams for certain samples whereas conventional methods need at least 10 grams in samples like wood and charcoal and as much as 100 grams in bones and sediments.
Accelerator mass spectrometers typically need sample sizes lesser than conventional methods by a factor of 1,000. Hence, because of its ability to analyze samples even in minute amounts, accelerator mass spectrometry is the method of choice for archaeologists with small artifacts and those who cannot destroy very expensive or rare materials.
Due to the sensitivity of accelerator mass spectrometers, carbon dating small particles like blood particles, a grain, or a seed have been made possible.
Accelerator mass spectrometry also takes less time to analyze samples for carbon 14 content compared to radiometric dating methods that can take one or two days.
Radiometric dating methods detect beta particles from the decay of carbon 14 atoms while accelerator mass spectrometers count the number of carbon 14 atoms present in the sample.