Accelerator Mass Spectrometry for Measurement of Long-Lived Radioisotopes

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Science  01 May 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4801, pp. 543-550
DOI: 10.1126/science.236.4801.543


Particle accelerators, such as those built for research in nuclear physics, can also be used together with magnetic and electrostatic mass analyzers to measure rare isotopes at very low abundance ratios. All molecular ions can be eliminated when accelerated to energies of millions of electron volts. Some atomic isobars can be eliminated with the use of negative ions; others can be separated at high energies by measuring their rate of energy loss in a detector. The long-lived radioisotopes 10Be, 14C,26A1, 36Cl, and 1291 can now be measured in small natural samples having isotopic abundances in the range 10-12 to 10- 5 and as few as 105 atoms. In the past few years, research applications of accelerator mass spectrometry have been concentrated in the earth sciences (climatology, cosmochemistry, environmental chemistry, geochronology, glaciology, hydrology, igneous petrogenesis, minerals exploration, sedimentology, and volcanology), in anthropology and archeology (radiocarbon dating), and in physics (searches for exotic particles and measurement of halflives). In addition, accelerator mass spectrometry may become an important tool for the materials and biological sciences.