Accelerator mass spectrometry

Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) is an analytical method for determining the isotope content of a sample with high accuracy and sensitivity. AMS analysis has many applications in fields including geology, archaeology, environmental research, and product safety – probably the most well-known of them being radiocarbon dating.

Accelerator mass spectrometry
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What is AMS analysis used for?

Accelerator mass spectrometry is an ultra-sensitive analytical technique used to measure the ratio of a rare, often radioactive isotope to the total number of that element's atoms in the sample. Different isotopes of the same element have the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei. Many rare isotopes, such as Be-10, C-14, Al-26, Cl-36, Ca-41, I-129, and several isotopes of uranium and plutonium can be analyzed with AMS. For the analysis of light-stable isotopes, IRMS is often a preferred method.

One of the most common applications of AMS is radiocarbon dating. The technique is widely used for determining the age of carbon-containing samples by measuring the amount of radioactive C-14 isotope in them. In addition to archaeology and historical research, AMS analysis is also commonly used to determine the bio-portion (the proportion of biobased content) of fuels and other carbon-containing materials.

The isotopes analyzed with AMS have a wide range of dating applications and they are used in a variation of chronometers and tracers. Therefore, AMS is utilized in many disciplines, such as geological and planetary sciences, geomorphology, quaternary science, environmental and atmospheric research, archaeology, historical research, global climate change control, nuclear safeguards, and biomedicine.

How does accelerator mass spectrometry work? 

AMS analysis is based on the use of an ion accelerator as a powerful mass spectrometer. Ion sources, large magnets, and detectors are used together with the accelerator to separate different isotopes and count single atoms. After the ionization of the sample, the magnetic and electric fields of the accelerator system filter out additional isotopes from the ion beam by deflecting them from their original direction.

The high speed of the ion beam enables molecules to be destroyed and removed from the measurement background. Finally, the ion beam is isotopically analyzed: the magnetic and electrostatic analyzers measure the amount of the isotope of interest, and ion detectors identify selected isotopes and count them individually. As a result, even concentrations of one atom in around 1,000 atoms can be measured.

Sample requirements and preparation 

Solid, liquid, and gaseous samples can be analyzed with AMS. For example, archaeological samples (e.g. fossils, pottery), geological samples (e.g. rocks, sediments), fuels, flue gases, and natural samples like rainwater are suitable for the analysis. Because AMS is a highly sensitive method, only a small sample amount is needed. For solid materials, a few milligrams are usually enough. 

Before the AMS analysis, the element of interest (e.g. carbon, beryllium, aluminum, iodine, uranium, or plutonium) has to be isolated from the sample and purified. Chemical methods are used to separate very small amounts of the element and to prepare the appropriate target material for the measurement.

Need an AMS analysis?

Measurlabs offers high-quality AMS analyses with fast results and affordable prices. If you have any questions about your sample or its suitability for the method, our experts are always happy to help. You can contact us through the form below or by emailing us at info@measurlabs.com.

Suitable sample matrices

  • Fuels (gaseous, liquid and solid)
  • Geological and environmental samples (for example rocks, meteorites, sediments, soil and water)
  • Archaeological samples (for example fossils, seeds and bones)
  • Historical samples (for example wood, fabrics and pottery)
  • Flue gases
  • Radioactive samples
  • Biomedical samples

Ideal uses of AMS

  • Radiocarbon dating
  • Bioportion determination (carbon content in fuels and flue gases)
  • Analyzing the concentrations of different isotopes in rocks and sediments in geology and geomorphology
  • Measuring the concentrations of long-lived radioisotopes in environmental and atmospheric research
  • Analysing the contents of meteorites in planetary sciences
  • Product development and quality control of chronometers and tracers
  • Nuclear safeguards
  • Biomedicine
  • Actinide and heavy ion isotopic analysis
  • Cosmogenic isotope dating

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Frequently asked questions

What is accelerator mass spectrometry?

Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) is an ultra-sensitive analytical technique used for measuring the concentration of a single isotope within a sample.

What is AMS used for?

AMS can be used to analyze many rare isotopes such as Be-10, C-14, Al-26, Cl-36, Ca-41, I-129, and several isotopes of uranium and plutonium. One of the most common applications of the method is radiocarbon dating by measuring the amount of radioactive C-14 isotope in historical objects.

AMS can also be used to determine the precise proportion of biobased content in different kinds of materials. This makes the method useful in biobased content measurement in accordance with EU policies on the substantiation of green claims.

What samples are suitable for AMS?

Solid, liquid, and gaseous samples can be analyzed with AMS. Typical samples include archaeological samples (e.g. fossils, pottery), geological samples (e.g. rocks, sediments), fuels, flue gases, and natural samples like rainwater.

What is Measurlabs?

Measurlabs offers a variety of laboratory analyses for product developers and quality managers. We perform some of the analyses in our own lab, but mostly we outsource them to carefully selected partner laboratories. This way we can send each sample to the lab that is best suited for the purpose, and offer high-quality analyses with more than a thousand different methods to our clients.

How does the service work?

When you contact us through our contact form or by email, one of our specialists will take ownership of your case and answer your query. You get an offer with all the necessary details about the analysis, and can send your samples to the indicated address. We will then take care of sending your samples to the correct laboratories and write a clear report on the results for you.

How do I send my samples?

Samples are usually delivered to our laboratory via courier. Contact us for further details before sending samples.