The nucleolus is a prominent, membraneless compartment found within the nucleus of eukaryotic cells. It forms around ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes, where it coordinates the transcription, processing, and packaging of rRNA to produce ribosomal subunits. Recent efforts to characterize the biophysical properties of the nucleolus have transformed our understanding of the assembly and organization of this dynamic compartment. Indeed, soluble macromolecules condense from the nucleoplasm to form nucleoli through a process called liquid–liquid phase separation. Individual nucleolar components rapidly exchange with the nucleoplasm and separate within the nucleolus itself to form distinct subcompartments. In addition to its essential role in ribosome biogenesis, the nucleolus regulates many aspects of cell physiology, including genome organization, stress responses, senescence and lifespan. Consequently, the nucleolus is implicated in several human diseases, such as Hutchinson–Gilford progeria syndrome, Diamond–Blackfan anemia, and various forms of cancer. This Special Issue highlights new insights into the physical and molecular mechanisms that control the architecture and diverse functions of the nucleolus, and how they break down in disease.