A method of segmenting chromatin particles in a nucleus of a cell by locating regional minima in an image, computing a zone of influence (ZOI) around each regional minimum, and segmenting a single chromatin blob within each ZOI using a region growing procedure. The method can be used as the basis of a method of qualitatively characterizing the distribution of nuclear chromatin by computing features for individual chromatin particles. Chromatin features can be synthesized from the features of individual particles and particle features can be synthesized into nucleus features and slide features. The method is useful for detecting malignancy associated changes and changes during neoplasia. The method may also be used more generally to assess chromatin patterns in living cells during the cell life cycle. This makes it possible to measure alternations in the evolving patterns that result from pathological or environmental influences.