Abstract The 2013 International Sustainability Transitions (IST) conference in Zürich, Switzerland brought together more than two hundred researchers in this emerging field of research. This special section features five selected conference papers that address novel topics or approaches and raise critical questions with regard to the development of the field. One is a plenary lecture while the other four where finalists for the IST2013 prize for the best conference paper. Although these papers were selected from a rather limited set of finished papers (about 50), they can serve as potential sensors for current developments and upcoming topics in transition studies. In this introduction, we briefly explain how the papers were selected and summarize their contents. We derive lessons for further research and connect these to current lines of research in the field.