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As a result, the concentration of carbon-14 leaves an indelible time stamp on every biological molecule when it comes into being.

To extract carbon for measurement, researchers at CAMS turn a sample into carbon dioxide through either combustion or a chemical process and then reduce the carbon dioxide to graphite—a form of carbon—on an iron catalyst.

Today, CAMS is the world’s most versatile and productive AMS facility.

“A full-size sample is about the size of a grain of salt, weighing between 100 micrograms to 1 milligram, although we often measure amounts as small as 20 micrograms.” Any sample that contains enough carbon to measure—dental enamel, proteins, or DNA, for example—can be dated using the highly accurate spectrometer at CAMS.When the aboveground test-ban treaty took effect in 1963, atmospheric levels of radiocarbon began to decline as carbon-14 migrated into the oceans and biosphere.Living organisms naturally incorporate carbon into their tissues as the element moves through the food chain.For example, it can identify one carbon-14 isotope among a quadrillion other carbon atoms.In the CAMS spectrometer, negative ions made in an ion source are accelerated in a field of hundreds of thousands of volts.

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