Accelerator mass spectrometry of 10Be, 14C, 26Al, 36Cl, 41Ca, 129I

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PRIME Lab is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Facts about PRIME Lab

The Purdue Rare Isotope Measurement Laboratory (PRIME Lab) is a dedicated research and service facility for accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). AMS is an ultra-sensitive analytical technique for measuring low levels of long-lived radionuclides and rare trace elements. At Purdue we have constructed a major national AMS facility centered around the Physics Department's tandem electrostatic accelerator. We are using the accelerator to measure both man-made and cosmic-ray-produced radionuclides such as 10Be (half-life 1,600,000 years), 14C (5730 years), and 36Cl (300,000 years) in natural samples having isotopic abundances down to one part in 1x1015 (a thousand million million) .

Although the instruments and detection methods are those of nuclear physics, research applications are concentrated in the Earth sciences and biomedical sciences. Earth science applications include radiocarbon dating, dating the exposure time of rocks on the surface of the earth in the range 10,000 to 300,000 years, measuring erosion rates of rocks and landscapes, dating and tracing of old ground water, and dating of meteorites recovered from the Antarctic ice sheet. Biomedical applications include tracing organic molecules with 14C, measuring bone resorption rates with 41Ca, and studying the effectiveness of adjuvants in vaccines with 26Al.

Scientific projects involving AMS measurements and further development of the technique of AMS are the primary activities at PRIME Lab. Additional research involves collaborations among members of the Purdue Departments of Physics, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Chemistry, Agronomy, Foods and Nutrition, and Vetinary Science, and Pharmacy. Also, we collaborate with many scientists from other institutions.


PRIME Lab is based on an upgraded FN (nominal 8 MV) tandem electrostatic accelerator. With higher energies than most accelerators dedicated to AMS, it has the capability to measure the full range of radionuclides including 10Be, 14C, 26Al, 36Cl, 41Ca, and 129I. The only other AMS facility in the USA with this capability is CAMS at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The PRIME Lab building on the Purdue campus contains 31,000 sq ft of floor space with 14 offices and 16 laboratories. New chemical preparation laboratories (1,070 sq ft) have been constructed in the Chemistry building.

Look here for several photographs of PRIME Lab


Purdue University dedicated its tandem accelerator to accelerator mass spectrometry in 1989; external funding began in April 1990; and the first AMS measurements took place in early 1991. The internal upgrade of the accelerator, which included new acceleration tubes and a new charging system, took place from December 1993 through April 1994. The upgrade of the analyzing magnet to fast isotope switching took place November 1998 through February 1999. The upgrade of the injector magnet is taking place in February 2001.


Purdue University has contributed over $0.5 million to start up the facility and to match grants from outside the university. Funds to upgrade the accelerator and AMS system were provided by grants from the W.M. Keck Foundation ($0.75 million and $0.5 million) and the National Science Foundation/Academic Research Infrastructure Program ($1.5 and $1.2 million). Operating support is provided by the NSF Earth Science Division/Instrumentation and Facilities Program (currently about $500,000 per year) and by income from sample measurements for scientists funded by the NSF, US Geological Survey, Department of Energy, and other agencies.