Making a mass spectrometer!

Grade School

Sep 24

When scientists carbon date ancient artifacts they use something called a mass spectrometer, that separates atoms by, you guessed it, their mass. Scientists look at a ratio of two atoms – Carbon 12 which is stable, and radioactively decaying Carbon 14.

Carbon 14 weighs slightly more than Carbon 12,  so they go to different places on the mass spectrometer. Scientists then use the ratio of the two (C14/C12) to determine how old an object is!

We were searching and searching for a fun hands on way to learn about carbon dating when this idea popped into Dr. Erica’s head (which was then much refined by Dad tester Evan) – what if we made a mass spectrometer out of a ramp and a blow dryer?!?

These items are easily found around the house, and they follow the same principles that a real mass spectrometer uses! Our homemade spectrometer can effectively sort pennies from nickels!! One of the projects in this month’s lab will now be to take a bag of mixed pennies and nickels and determine how many they are with our spectrometer, and carbon dating our chicken mummies!!

You can see Dr. Erica explain it here on YouTube! Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel! We post tons of great videos about all aspects of each lab!