Morphological characterization of nanoparticle assemblies and hybrid nanomaterials is critical in determining their structure-property relationships as well as in the development of structures with desired properties. Electron tomography has become a widely utilized technique for the three-dimensional characterization of nanoparticle assemblies. However, the extraction of quantitative morphological parameters from the reconstructed volume can be a complex and labor-intensive task. In this study, we aim to overcome this challenge by automating the volumetric segmentation process applied to three-dimensional reconstructions of nanoparticle assemblies. The key to enabling automated characterization is to assess the performance of different volumetric segmentation methods in accurately extracting predefined quantitative descriptors for morphological characterization. In our methodology, we compare the quantitative descriptors obtained through manual segmentation with those obtained through automated segmentation methods, to evaluate their accuracy and effectiveness. To show generality, our study focuses on the characterization of assemblies of CdSe/CdS quantum dots, gold nanospheres and CdSe/CdS encapsulated in polymeric micelles, and silica-coated gold nanorods decorated with both CdSe/CdS or PbS quantum dots. We use two unsupervised segmentation algorithms: the watershed transform and the spherical Hough transform. Our results demonstrate that the choice of automated segmentation method is crucial for accurately extracting the predefined quantitative descriptors. Specifically, the spherical Hough transform exhibits superior performance in accurately extracting quantitative descriptors, such as particle size and interparticle distance, thereby allowing for an objective, efficient, and reliable volumetric segmentation of complex nanoparticle assemblies.
Journal of Physical Chemistry C

Kavak, S, Kadu, A.A, Claes, N, Sánchez-Iglesias, A. (Ana), Liz-Marzán, L.M, Batenburg, K.J, & Bals, S. (2023). Quantitative 3D investigation of nanoparticle assemblies by volumetric segmentation of electron tomography data sets. Journal of Physical Chemistry C, 127(20), 9725–9734. doi:10.1021/acs.jpcc.3c02017