Highly oxygenated organic molecules (HOM) are formed in the atmosphere via autoxidation involving peroxy radicals arising from volatile organic compounds (VOC). HOM condense on pre-existing particles and can be involved in new particle formation. HOM thus contribute to the formation of secondary organic aerosol (SOA), a significant and ubiquitous component of atmospheric aerosol known to affect the Earths radiation balance. HOM were discovered only very recently, but the interest in these compounds has grown rapidly. In this Review, we define HOM and describe the currently available techniques for their identification/quantification, followed by a summary of the current knowledge on their formation mechanisms and physicochemical properties. A main aim is to provide a common frame for the currently quite fragmented literature on HOM studies. Finally, we highlight the existing gaps in our understanding and suggest directions for future HOM research.