In this overview the technique of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) and its use are described. AMS is a highly sensitive method of counting atoms. It is used to detect very low concentrations of natural isotopic abundances (typically in the range between 10(-12) and 10(-16)) of both radionuclides and stable nuclides. The main advantages of AMS compared to conventional radiometric methods are the use of smaller samples (mg and even sub-mg size) and shorter measuring times (less than 1 hr). The equipment used for AMS is almost exclusively based on the electrostatic tandem accelerator, although some of the newest systems are based on a slightly different principle. Dedicated accelerators as well as older "nuclear physics machines" can be found in the 80 or so AMS laboratories in existence today. The most widely used isotope studied with AMS is 14C. Besides radiocarbon dating this isotope is used in climate studies, biomedicine applications and many other fields. More than 100,000 14C samples are measured per year. Other isotopes studied include 10Be, 26Al, 36Cl, 41Ca, 59Ni, 129I, U, and Pu. Although these measurements are important, the number of samples of these other isotopes measured each year is estimated to be less than 10% of the number of 14C samples.
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