The interactions between and with nanostructures can only be fully understood when the functional group distribution on their surfaces can be quantified accurately. Here we apply a combination of direct stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (dSTORM) imaging and probabilistic modelling to analyse molecular distributions on spherical nanoparticles. The properties of individual fluorophores are assessed and incorporated into a model for the dSTORM imaging process. Using this tailored model, overcounting artefacts are greatly reduced and the locations of dye labels can be accurately estimated, revealing their spatial distribution. We show that standard chemical protocols for dye attachment lead to inhomogeneous functionalization in the case of ubiquitous polystyrene nanoparticles. Moreover, we demonstrate that stochastic fluctuations result in large variability of the local group density between particles. These results cast doubt on the uniform surface coverage commonly assumed in the creation of amorphous functional nanoparticles and expose a striking difference between the average population and individual nanoparticle coverage.
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