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How much their path bends depends on their mass: Lighter ions bend more. Penn State will soon be home to an accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) that will allow researchers all over the country to do high-precision carbon dating to address questions about Earth's past and present.

Carbon dating has been used since the 1940s to determine the ages of archaeological finds.

Accelerator mass spectrometry is not dependent upon the radioactive decay.

What you’re doing is measuring all of the carbon isotopes in the sample – the 12, 13 and 14 – the accelerator operates like a giant mass spectrometer.

So if you have very large samples – you’ve got a big hunk of wood out of an archaeological site or a big piece of charcoal or something – and you have a very limited budget, conventional dating is worth doing because you get a result and you can possibly get more results with your budget than with AMS dating.

However, in many circumstances, sample size dictates AMS.

Also shown are views of bone preparation at the Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory.

"The new facility is an exciting addition both for Penn State and for the larger scientific community.