Synchrotron radiation has evolved tremendously in recent decades in sources, instrumentation, and applications in materials studies. This article provides background and an introduction to the state of the art of synchrotron research as it relates to materials research, including an overview of the articles in this MRS Bulletin issue, which focus on Laue microdiffraction, high-energy x-ray diffraction on battery materials, synchrotron radiation in high-pressure research, x-ray dark-field microscopy, and x-ray absorption spectroscopy applied to energy research. The modern approach of displaying diffraction data in reciprocal-space units and the distinction between spectroscopy and diffraction are summarized. Applications and technologies are continuously developing toward technical and optical limits, combining multiple methods for an even brighter future for this field. It is now time for expert groups to begin applying multiple and different kinds of quantum beams, such as neutrons, muons, electrons, and ions, complementary to synchrotron radiation for more efficient and effective characterization of materials.