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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.
Thanks to nuclear physics, mass spectrometers have been fine-tuned to separate a rare isotope from an abundant neighboring mass, and accelerator mass spectrometry was born.
A method has finally been developed to detect carbon 14 in a given sample and ignore the more abundant isotopes that swamp the carbon 14 signal.
At this stage, molecules that may be present are eliminated because they cannot exist in this triple charged state.
The carbon atoms with triple positive charge further accelerate away from the positive terminal and pass through another set of focusing devices where mass analysis occurs.
This is done by conversion to carbon dioxide with subsequent graphitization in the presence of a metal catalyst.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.