This special issue of Optics & Photonics News highlights the most exciting peer-reviewed optics research to have emerged over the past 12 months. Our panel of editors reviewed close to 80 submitted summaries from scientists all over the globe. They selected for publication the 30 stories that they felt most clearly communicated breakthroughs of interest to the optics community. Eleven of those have multimedia components that you can access at or through the December issue page. Thanks to all who submitted summaries as well as to our panel of guest editors.