I've read this today. From the little I know, they discover new elements by bombarding some atoms in particle accelerators (I guess) and these new elements last a few miliseconds. So what's the insight they reveal to us? Why are these discoveries useful?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Chemistry.SE. I'd say this question might be better suited for Physics.SE but let's see what the chemistry community has to say about it. In my opinion those unstable new elements have nearly no impact on chemistry at all. They are much too rare and exist for too short a time to make interesting chemistry with them. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Aug 29 '13 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp Thanks for the warm welcome. If the community thinks it's better for Physics.SE - I hope the mods will migrate it. $\endgroup$ – Billy Rubina Aug 29 '13 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe it might be even ok to ask it on both sides. That way you get the chemical as well as the physical point of view. But on the other hand there should be enough "physicophilic" people around to give you good accounts on both view points. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Aug 29 '13 at 16:49

There are multiple reasons:

  • To improve our experimental prowess: There's no single catch-all process to create higher elements. While the basic process is to smash stuff together, once can't get much more specific than that. For each new element, the techniques used differ. And, as with any experiment, the complications which arise differ. Solving these lead to a deeper understanding of how to conduct experiments. Note that there have been gaps of years between the synthesis of various transuranium elements. This is not because scientists find it a useless task; it is because designing an experiment to synthesize these elements is hard.
  • To test stability: We have various nuclear models that can predict the stability of the elements. Creating new atoms helps validate these theories.

  • Islands of stability: Some higher elements are considered islands of stability in that they are more stable than their neighbors. If we can improve our experimental techniques to the extent that these can be generated, we may find some use for them. Of course, these may or may not be useful — these still are short-lived, just not extremely short-lived

  • Because we can!
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    $\begingroup$ Also: To test their chemical properties: chemical properties of very heavy elements are hard to predict, so having them for real allows one to look at their behavior/reactivity $\endgroup$ – F'x Aug 29 '13 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ And, of course, what is cooler than having a shiny new element named after you... :) $\endgroup$ – Philipp Aug 29 '13 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ @F'x Hmm. I don't see how you can test the chemical properties of an element that decays in times that are orders of magnitude less than reaction times O_0 $\endgroup$ – ManishEarth Aug 30 '13 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp Ha! Though these days we don't seem to have any new elements named after their discoverers. Discovering institutes, yes. Famous people from the past, yes. But no single discoverers. $\endgroup$ – ManishEarth Aug 30 '13 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ @ManishEarth Well, I guess the citizens from Ytterby are ok with that :) $\endgroup$ – Philipp Aug 30 '13 at 4:55

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