Mass spectrometers detect atoms of specific elements according to their atomic weights.
There are two techniques in measuring radiocarbon in samples—through radiometric dating and by Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS).
The two techniques are used primarily in determining carbon 14 content of archaeological artifacts and geological samples.
There are essentially two parts in the process of radiocarbon dating through accelerator mass spectrometry.
The first part involves accelerating the ions to extraordinarily high kinetic energies, and the subsequent step involves mass analysis.
An accelerator mass spectrometer has a run time of a few hours per sample.
Lastly, it must be noted that AMS measurements usually achieve higher precision and lower backgrounds than radiometric dating methods.
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.
There are two accelerator systems commonly used for radiocarbon dating through accelerator mass spectrometry.
One is the cyclotron, and the other is a tandem electrostatic accelerator.
Detectors at different angles of deflection then count the particles.