The papers in this special issue of Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics (JPhysD) originate from the 12th International Symposium on the Science and Technology of Light Sources and the 3rd International Conference on White LEDs and Solid State Lighting, held 11–16 July 2010 at Eindhoven University. Abstracts of all papers presented at this combined conference were published in the Conference Proceedings LS-WLED 2010 by FAST-LS, edited by M Haverlag, G M W Kroesen and T Taguchi. Special issues of the previous three LS conferences have been well-cited and have proven to be an important source of information for the lighting community. The 2010 LS-Symposium was a combined conference with the White LED Conference in order to enhance the scope of this conference series towards new light source technologies such as LEDs and OLEDs, and this co-operation will be continued in the future. Given the faster technology development in these areas it was also decided to shorten the interval between conferences from three to two years.Well over 200 invited presentations, landmark presentations and poster contributions were presented at the 2010 LS-Symposium. The organizing committee have selected from these a number of outstanding contributions with a high technological content and invited the authors to submit a full paper in JPhysD. The criteria were that the work should not be a repetition of the work already published in the Proceedings, but should be new, complete, within the scope of JPhysD, and meeting the normal quality standards of this journal. After peer review a combined set of 18 papers is published in this JPhysD special issue. In addition, a number of lighting-application-orientated papers will be published in a special issue of Journal of Light & Visual Environment later in 2011.The papers in this special issue of JPhysD show that research in the science and technology of light sources still covers a broad set of subject areas which includes both 'classical' discharge light sources and (O)LED sources, and new concepts are still being added to the range of technologies that are being used in practice.A truly classic aspect of lamp operation is lumen maintenance, and despite being in use for almost 50 years, Na/Sc quartz metal halide lamps until recently still suffered from a strong lumen depreciation over life. This issue has been resolved to a large extent with the introduction of high-frequency operation. In the paper of Van Erk et al, indications are given as to why this mode of operation is so successful.Another classic theme in the area of discharge lamp sources is ignition, still a major issue. In two consecutive papers by Sobota et al, several aspects of the cold ignition of ceramic metal halide lamps are discussed, including statistical delay effects, the role of the driving voltage, and ignition aids.The ignition becomes more complex when mercury is left out of a metal halide lamp and this is clearly shown in the paper by Estupiñán et al. When not buffered by mercury, water impurities will give rise to the formation of hydrogen iodide, which is very volatile and a strongly electronegative species, thereby hampering the ignition process. Mercury-free metal halide lamps will potentially show very different spectral properties. This is shown in the paper by Käning et al, where use has been made of the ongoing improvements in ceramic lamp technology to make lamps with a high rare-earth iodide content. It was found that in such lamps the contribution of molecular lines can become so important that some lines even become self-reversed. This opens new possibilities for making high-quality white light sources without mercury while retaining the use of electrodes.High rare-earth content also changes the behaviour of electrodes as a result of the lowering of the work function due to gas-phase emitter effects. In the paper by Reinelt et al some clear examples of this effect are investigated as well as their dependence on the operational frequency in ceramic metal halide lamps.Despite the fact that ceramic metal halide lamps with electrodes have already been on the market for more than 15 years, the latest developments in materials and lamp-shaping technologies continue to push the limits of efficiency and colour quality of these lamps. In an effort to clarify the energy balance of these lamps, Rijke et al have shown that it is possible to deduce from integrated sphere measurements in the visible and IR region the complete energy balance of such lamps. This method will provide valuable insights to push the efficacy of HID technologies even further.New concepts based on discharges are also being proposed and some of these are also being introduced to the market. It is interesting to note that all of these concepts are either mercury-free or can easily be adapted to mercury-free versions.One such contender is the electrodeless HID lamp. In the paper by Gilliard et al it is shown how a cavity resonator can be effectively used to couple power into a capacitively coupled electrodeless metal halide lamp. In contrast, the paper by Hilbig et al shows a concept in which the power is inductively coupled. Both methods potentially offer more freedom in salt choice, and this is used in the paper by Hilbig et al to test various new molecular radiators including some oxygen-containing molecules. With a larger choice of applicable salt systems, it becomes even more important to know the thermodynamical properties of rare-earth molecules. A nice overview of these properties for the mono-halides is given in the paper by Mucklejohn.Operating at lower pressures is another concept; employment of phosphor-converted DBD and microplasma lamps is studied in the papers by Eden et al and Guivan et al. A relatively new concept based on pulsed operation of pure Xe discharges and phosphor conversion is described by Motomura et al.These papers show that there is still an abundance of developments in discharge-based light sources. However, the progress in the last few years in LED and OLED sources has been even greater. In the editorial for the LS-11 conference by previous guest editor David Wharmby, it was stated that most LED lighting was still mostly used for signalling and decorative sources. In the three years that have passed, things have changed considerably and we now see LED light sources entering every application, ranging from street lighting and parking lots to shop lighting and even greenhouses.Currently LED prices for traditional lighting applications are high, but they are dropping rapidly. The papers published in this special issue give some indications of things to come. The paper by Jamil et al deals with the possibility of using silicon wafers as substrate material instead of the now commonly used (but more expensive) sapphire substrates. This is attractive from a cost price point of view, but leads to an increased lattice mismatch and therefore strain-induced defects. In this paper it is shown that when using intermediate matching layers it is possible to retain the same electrical and optical properties as with structures on sapphire. Another aspect that directly relates to cost is efficiency and droop in green InGaN devices, which is addressed in the paper by Lee et al. They show that by providing a flow of trymethylindium prior to the growth of the quantum wells it is possible to significantly increase the internal quantum efficiency of green LEDs.Improvement of the optical out-coupling of InGaN LEDs is discussed by Mak et al, and it is found that localized plasmon resonance of metallic nanoparticles (and especially silver) can help to increase the optical out-coupling in the wavelength region of interest. Nanoparticles in the form of ZnO nanorods are described by Willander et al as a possibility for phosphor-free wavelength conversion on polymer (O)LEDs. More advanced functions besides light emission can be achieved with OLEDs and this is demonstrated in the article by Generali et al which describes various aspects of organic light-emitting (field) transistors based on different substrates.The guest editors of this special issue of Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics would like to thank all the colleagues who helped us identify this exhaustive collection of papers. There are too many people to list here, but we know them well and are grateful for their help.