It is now clearly emerging that besides size and shape, the other primary defining element of nanoscale objects in biological media is their long-lived protein ("hard") corona. This corona may be expressed as a durable, stabilizing coating of the bare surface of nanoparticle (NP) monomers, or it may be reflected in different subpopulations of particle assemblies, each presenting a durable protein coating. Using the approach and concepts of physical chemistry, we relate studies on the composition of the protein corona at different plasma concentrations with structural data on the complexes both in situ and free from excess plasma. This enables a high degree of confidence in the meaning of the hard protein corona in a biological context. Here, we present the protein adsorption for two compositionally different NPs, namely sulfonated polystyrene and silica NPs. NP-protein complexes are characterized by differential centrifugal sedimentation, dynamic light scattering, and zeta-potential both in situ and once isolated from plasma as a function of the protein/NP surface area ratio. We then introduce a semiquantitative determination of their hard corona composition using one-dimensional sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and electrospray liquid chromatography mass spectrometry, which allows us to follow the total binding isotherms for the particles, identifying simultaneously the nature and amount of the most relevant proteins as a function of the plasma concentration. We find that the hard corona can evolve quite significantly as one passes from protein concentrations appropriate to in vitro cell studies to those present in in vivo studies, which has deep implications for in vitro-in vivo extrapolations and will require some consideration in the future.