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05-Feb-2015 23:32

Development of the ATTA-3 instrument was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, Division of Earth Sciences.The half-lives of the three noble gas isotopes have different orders of magnitude, allowing them to cover a wide range of ages. Its apparatus consists of lasers and vacuum systems of table-top size.At its center is a magneto-optical trap to capture atoms of the desired isotope using laser beams.A sensitive CCD camera detects the laser induced fluorescence emitted by the atoms held in vacuum.Trapping force and fluorescence detection require the atom to repeatedly scatter photons at a high rate (~10).Indeed they possess ideal geophysical and geochemical properties for radioisotope dating.Dating ranges of radioisotope tracers follow closely their radioactive half-lives.

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This is the key to the superior selectivity of ATTA because it only occurs when the laser frequency precisely matches the resonance frequency of a particular atomic transition.Even the small changes in the atomic transition frequency between isotopes of the same element – the so called isotope shifts – are sufficient to perfectly distinguish between the isotopes.