Aerosols are of central importance for atmospheric chemistry and physics, the biosphere, climate, and public health. The airborne solid and liquid particles in the nanometer to micrometer size range influence the energy balance of the Earth, the hydrological cycle, atmospheric circulation, and the abundance of greenhouse and reactive trace gases. Moreover, they play important roles in the reproduction of biological organisms and can cause or enhance diseases. The primary parameters that determine the environmental and health effects of aerosol particles are their concentration, size, structure, and chemical composition. These parameters, however, are spatially and temporally highly variable. The quantification and identification of biological particles and carbonaceous components of fine particulate matter in the air (organic compounds and black or elemental carbon, respectively) represent demanding analytical challenges. This Review outlines the current state of knowledge, major open questions, and research perspectives on the properties and interactions of atmospheric aerosols and their effects on climate and human health.