The development of new materials and improvements of existing ones are at the root of the spectacular recent developments of new technologies for synchrotron storage rings and free-electron laser sources. This holds true for all relevant application areas, from electron guns to undulators, x-ray optics, and detectors. As demand grows for more powerful and efficient light sources, efficient optics, and high-speed detectors, an overview of ongoing materials research for these applications is timely. In this article, we focus on the most exciting and demanding areas of materials research and development for synchrotron radiation optics and detectors. Materials issues of components for synchrotron and free-electron laser accelerators are briefly discussed. The articles in this issue expand on these topics.