• Aerial photograph of the Dunstaffnage peninsula with Dunstaffnage castle, SAMS, European Marine Science Park and SAMS' pontoon
    blue background
    Dunstaffnage: the past meets the future
    Sea all around
  • CCAP technician Debi in one of the walk-in temperature controlled rooms of the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa.
    National capability
    Europe's largest culture collection of algae and protozoa
  • Technologist working on sensors for marine robots.
    Technology drives marine exploration
    Scottish Marine Robotics Facility
  • Research vessels moored on SAMS pontoon with crisp mountains in background
    Our research vessels
    for research, teaching and charter
  • In the cafe at SAMS scientists engage with each other and exchange ideas and support
    white background
    A working environment where the mind thrives
  • View of some of the tanks from the mezzanine floor.
    Our aquarium supports marine research

Our campus

The SAMS campus is near the village of Dunbeg, 3.5 miles north-east of Oban on the west coast of Sotland. It is built on a peninsula with 13th century Dunstaffnage Castle and the European Marine Science Park as its neighbours - where the past meets the future!

The perfect place for research and study

Within this rural coastal setting lies the SAMS campus, home to nearly 300 staff, students, fellows and business tenants. The location is conducive to researching, studying and experiencing all aspects of the marine environment. The stunning natural environment surrounding SAMS furthermore facilitates thinking and reflection.

Diverse and accessible oceanographic domains and marine habitats

Our location is perfect for marine science with diverse oceanographic environments on the doorstep, relatively clean waters supporting high marine biodiversity all around us and sheltered deep-water sites within nearby sea lochs where we can test and deploy marine technologies. 

Remote, perhaps, but well connected

Oban is 2-3 hours from Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is serviced by regular train and bus services, as well as a small airport in North Connel and a major ferry port connecting us to many of the Hebridean islands. 

Sir John Murray Building

Opened in 2004 and named in honour of SAMS' founding father, the Sir John Murray Building houses much of our indoor research infrastructure. The facilities are arranged over three floors (lift available). It includes a range of labs, workshops, lecture and meeting rooms, reception, library, and a self-catering cafe. 

Modern laboratories and state-of-the-art equipment

  • >Several biology laboratories
  • >Sedimentology lab including a Geotek multi-sensor core logger and laser-particle size analysis facilities
  • >Several chemistry/biogeochemistry labs equipped eg with mass spectrometers (ICP-MS, ICP-OEC, LA-ICP-MS, oxygen isotope MS, SeaFAST+ICP-MS), inorganic nutrient autoanalysers, C & N elemental analyser, total carbon analyser, ion chromatograph, gas chromtatography gear (for gas and lipid analysis), HPLC, and automated NC analyser for gas, solids and liquids.
  • >Radiochemistry facilities with alpha, beta and gamma counting detectors and liquid scintillation counter
  • >Microbiology laboratories with inverted, standard, confocal microscopes, environmental scanning electron microscope, transmission electron microscope, flow cytometer
  • >Molecular biology laboratories with thermal cyclers for PCR and quantitative real-time PCR; nanodrop spectrophometer for DNA and RNA quantification; 1- and 2-D gel electrophoresis for RNA, DNA and protein analysis; Agilent 2100 bioanalyzer; electrophoresis room with dark room; microcentrifuges and refrigerated centrifuge etc

Lecture and meeting rooms

The rooms below can be made available to external groups as conference or meeting spaces (contact: events@sams.ac.uk).

William Speirs Bruce Conference Room (1st floor)

  • >For up to 120 delegates
  • >With high res projector, DVD player, network connected PC, TV card, audio amplifier, lectern, induction loop amplifier
  • >Video conference kit
  • >Layout options for lectures, workshops, examinations, meetings, panel interviews and even fitness classes!
  • >Windowless, fully temperature and light control
  • >WIFI

Meeting Room 3 (first floor)

  • >Purple Room - easily accommodates 40 people
  • >Includes projector, networked PC etc
  • >Very flexible facility with small en-suite kitchen
  • >Windows on two sides
  • >Located next to the William Speirs Bruce Conference Room and often used for conference break-out sessions, refreshments or poster sessions
  • >WIFI

Board Room (2nd floor)

  • >Formal room in SAMS directorate for events for up to 26 delegates
  • >Includes video and telephone conferencing facilities
  • >Projector and screen - laptop can be booked through SAMS Secretary
  • >WIFI
  • >Access to balcony with stunning views over Dunstaffnage Marina towards Ben Cruachan
  • >Refreshments / lunches can be served in the directorate area just outside the room

Meeting Rooms 1 and 2 (ground floor adjacent to reception)

  • >For up to 12 people each, includes video conference suite and white boards
  • >By removing a partition wall, the two rooms can be joined to accommodate up to 40 people
  • >WIFI

Meeting Room 4 (ground floor)

  • >Very small meeting room for up to four people. No presentation facilities.
  • >One window
  • >WIFI

Charles Wyville Thomson library

Our research library houses approximately 5,000 books and approximately 30,000 serial volumes of 1,300 serial titles. It incorporates a historical collection of expedition reports and rare books. In addition to these holdings, the library maintains subscriptions to 600 e-journals. Also student textbooks across the range of our teaching subjects can be found here.

The library is available to SAMS staff, students, tenants, and visitors. SAMS members may use the facility as a reference library during working hours.

The library goes back to a donation of books made by Sir Charles Wyville Thomson, the Edinburgh professor who led the Challenger Expedition which established marine science as a discipline.

Cafe na Mara

As important to excellent research and teaching as laboratories and workshops, lecture rooms and libraries is a convenient place for people to meet and exchange views and problems in a relaxed atmosphere. The Cafe na Mara has one of the best views of all rooms within SAMS as it has glass walls on two sides! Here researchers pop in to pick up their morning cup of tea, where students gather for coffee and cake at 11, where people come together to warm up their lunches and it's the place they sneak to when they need a chocolate bar when working late. Here solutions are found because people make the time to exchange themselves, and many a multi-disciplinary project has started here over a cup of coffee. The Cafe na Mara is where people assemble to wish farewell to leaving colleagues, and where every month staff gather for coffee mornings to raise funds for a multitude of charitable purposes.

European Centre for Marine Biotechnology

The smaller wing of the Sir John Murray Building houses a business incubator facility, where companies rent space from SAMS and share in the use of many of our facilities. Several of these companies are marine biotech businesses, but we also have aquaculture and marine technology related tenants as well as a law firm in the ECMB. Anyone interested in renting space here should contact Anuschka.Miller@sams.ac.uk.

Sheina Marshall Building

The Sheina Marshall Building was opened in 2011 and is dedicated to teaching and education. Arranged over two floors the building is serviced by a lift.

Who was Sheina Marshall

Explore the campus with Marie-Louise


Teaching laboratories (ground floor)

There are four teaching laboratories that are supported by the latest audiovisual technology including smart boards. Large preparation facilities are also available:

  • >The John Gage Laboratory can support up 60 students. It is named after SAMS deep-sea benthic ecologist Professor John Gage (1939-2005).
  • >The James Gemmill Laboratory accommodates up to 24 students. James Gemmill, our first ever President 1901-06, was a groundbreaking researcher on larval development of marine animals.
  • >The Clifford Mortimer Laboratory is for up to 24 students. Clifford Mortimer was a former Director of SAMS (1957-68) responsible for moving the organisation from Millport to Oban and well respected researcher into freshwater dynamics.
  • >The Hugh Robert Mill Laboratory suits groups of up to 12 students. Hugh Robert Mill was the first chemist and physicist employed by the Association in 1884 and became influential in the development of meteorology.

All rooms include fume cupboards and sinks, and are serviced with distilled water and gas.

Our lab store is stocked with standard lab equipment such as:

  • >different types of microscopes
  • >camera attachments for microscopes
  • >laboratory glassware
  • >spectrophotometers
  • >pH meters
  • >balances
  • >lab dancers, water baths, pipettes
  • >drying ovens
  • >a large 3D globe
  • >a large ripple tank

AP Orr Lecture Room and Annex (ground floor)

Adjacent to the Ocean Explorer Centre and its cafe are two lecture rooms:

The A.P. Orr Lecture Room for 60+ delegates is equipped with projector, sympodium and pen and has video-conferencing facilities.

The A.P. Orr Annex for 20 delegates is also equipped with projector, sympodium and VC capabilities.

The two adjacent rooms are divided by a movable partition and can be converted into a single lecture room for up to 100 delegates. The room is actually licensed for up to 200 people and has been used for such large numbers to host community groups.

The room is named after Andrew Picken Orr, a marine chemist who worked for about 40 years at the Association with Sheina Marshall on phyto- and zooplankton, its dynamics and nutrient dependency in and around Loch Striven and the Clyde.

Linnhe Suite (ground floor)

The Linnhe Suite on the first floor is for audiences of up to 40 delegates and is serviced by a 92'' smart board and smaller smart boards for group work.

Creran Seminar Room (first floor)

This first floor room, named after our local Loch Creran protected for its serpulid reefs and horse mussel reefs, can accommodate 12 users for meetings or 9 for a lecture style arrangement. It is equipped with a 50'' LCD smart board with sympodium.

Etive Seminar Room (first floor)

This first floor room for up to 12 users is equipped with a 50'' LCD smart board with sympodium. It is named after local Loch Etive, where we conduct much research and which is notable for its very narrow and turbulent mouth (Falls of Lora), a 20+ strong colony of common seals, its substantial depth down to 150 m and the oak woods on its north bank.

Leven Seminar Room (first floor)

This first floor room, named after Loch Leven, accommodates up to 12 users. It is equipped with a 50'' LCD smart board with sympodium and is located opposite the Camus Cafe.

Computer rooms (first floor)

Computer Suite 1 is for up to 20 users with a 63" LCD smart board with sympodium and pen.

Computer Suite 2 is for up to 30 users with a 63" smart board with sympodium and pen.

The rooms are connected by a door and can be used together for large classes.

Study room (first floor)

A large, light and quiet study rooms encourages students to spend their day studying at SAMS. To catch up with friends or for noisy group work there are spaces in the upstairs lobby or in the Camus Cafe.

Camus Cafe (first floor)

Overlooking Camus Bay, this self-catering student cafe has the most spectacular views - and a balcony to sit on during the warmer times of the year. Some students claim the scenery stops them from studying as hard as they should...

Camus Cafe is beautifully furnished with sofas, tables and chairs and equipped with vending machine, coffee and tea making facilities, microwaves and toasters for students to prepare /warm up their own meals.

The groundfloor Cafe Scientifique in the Ocean Explorer Centre is staffed and offers a range of affordable cold and warm lunches, cakes, snacks and drinks.

Alan Ansell Research Aquarium

Our Alan Ansell research aquarium is a sizable, flexible space to allow our scientists, visiting collaborators, students, tenants and customers to conduct research with living marine organisms. The facility extends over 160m2 and consists of indoor and outdoor facilities. The indoor facilities include a open plan experimental area, a mezzanine floor for dry and self-contained wet experiments, numerous photoperiod and constant temperature rooms, and an observation room.

The aquarium is serviced with:

  • >pristine sea water from the Lynne of Lorne
  • >reliable water pump system: duplicate, monitored and alarmed
  • >water pumped via sub-sea sand filters into four 44m3 reservoirs
  • >flow-through water system with capability for full or partial recirculation
  • >compressed air and localised power supplies (230V ac, 110V ac and 12V dc)
  • >hard-wired data and video communication links to an adjacent observation room
  • >computer-controlled, flexible lighting system
  • >a selection of GRP stock tanks of the following sizes: 1000mm (length) x 500mm (width) x 300mm (depth);  1000mm x 1000mm x 500mm, and 1800mm x 1800mm x 900mm. We also have a few larger tanks and many smaller standard tanks in both glass and acrylic.

Our facilities meet the highest hygiene standards, exceeding UK Home Office requirements.

An in-house multi-skilled technical support team is available to assist in the design, development, setting up and running of bespoke experimental systems to conduct aquaculture or marine ecology related research projects. The aquarium manager is Christine Beveridge (E: Christine.Beveridge@sams.ac.uk).

The aquarium has been used for studies of various topics including fish physiology, fish feed trials, biology of deep-sea coral, biological rhythms, echinoculture, seaweed cultivation, larval development, behavioural studies, and the biology of non-native species.

The facilities can be made available to external agents and past clients include BOCM Pauls, Unilever, Roche, the Scottish Salmon Growers Association, The Crown Estate, Highlands and Island Enterprise, DEFRA and Glycomar. Commercial clients who want to rent space or commission a research project should contact us at info@srsl.com or T: +44 (0) 1631 559 470.

Aquarium space details

Main aquarium: This 40 m2 open plan experimental floor area is serviced by natural seawater, compressed air, localised power supplies (110V AC, 12V DC and 230V AC). The lighting is computer controlled. Hard-wired data and video communication links to an adjacent observation room allow the remote viewing of disturbance-sensitive experiments and for remote data acquisition.

Mezzanine: The mezzanine floor is connected to the main aquarium and extends over approximately 23m2. This area is largely used as a dry experimental area but has the capability to support small self-contained wet experiments as compressed air and 230V AC are available.

Indoor annex: This space contains 24 self-cleaning tanks with flow-through rates of 4.5 litres per minute per tank. These tanks can be run with a continuous supply of fresh seawater and flow rates can be adjusted depending on experimental conditions.

Outdoor aquarium: We have several aquarium tanks in an outdoor compound, serviced with natural seawater only, extending over approximately 30m2.

CT rooms: Our aquarium includes ten constant temperature (CT) rooms of ca 10.5m2 each. In these rooms temperatures between 0oC and ambient can be selected. Rooms are serviced by natural seawater, compressed air, electrical sockets and data and video links to the observation room. Two rooms can supply chilled seawater (to 1oC) - e.g. to support cold-water research. These rooms also benefit from an advanced computer-controlled lighting scheme that allows experimental photoperiod manipulations.

Photoperiod rooms: The aquarium includes four dedicated photoperiod rooms (10.5 m2 - 12.5m2). Lighting options include a red light function or total light manipulation via a remotely sited computer-based system that allows user-defined light regimes. All rooms are serviced by valved seawater outlets and multiport controlled compressed air outlets.

Observation room: A quiet and comfortable observation room with ample work top space allows experimenters to collect and analyse data remotely, and to observe behaviour without disturbing the animals. The room, located adjacent to the aquarium, has multiple 230V socket outlets and incoming video and data links from most areas in the aquarium.

Laboratories: The aquarium includes three lab rooms used as specimen reception areas, for sample preparation and for basic analysis. For more complex analyses, we can access other laboratories at SAMS with advanced instrumentation.

Scottish Marine Robotics Facility

The enormous challenges of collecting data in the hostile marine environment have limited the speed of scientific advancement in marine science. But the emerging age of the robot is beginning to revert this trend. 

At SAMS we have a dedicated building - known as the North Atlantic Glider Base - where various diving and flying robots are stored, maintained, developed and tested. The SMRF includes gliders, autonomous underwater vehicles, remotely piloted aircraft, seabed landers, sonar surveying platforms, remotely operated vehicles and ocean arrays. 

SMRF is part of the UK National Marine Autonomous and Robotics Systems facility.

Research Vessels

Throughout our history this Association has been served by a range of vessels to conduct marine research.

A small fleet of research vessels provide our scientists, visitors, students and customers with direct access to the range of oceanographic environments on our door step: from sea lochs, the Firth of Lorne and Sound of Mull, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, sites in the Clyde to the continental shelf and deep waters beyond.

SAMS operates two research vessels, the larger RV Calanus and the RV Seòl Mara which are moored at their dedicated pontoon adjacent to the Institute.

Calanus and Seòl Mara are capable of deploying a range of sampling gear for hydrographic, biological and chemical parameters including sediment corers, dredges, CTD, water samplers, towed samplers and acoustic devices as well as more specialised equipment. Calanus is equipped with multibeam sonar and side-scan and video technology for seafloor investigations.

The vessels are operated by an experienced crew capable of deploying the technology and supporting sampling, diving and instrumentation.

For technical information, please contact the Ships Operations Manager, John Beaton (E: John.Beaton@sams.ac.uk).

For customers who want to hire our vessels, moor along our pontoon or commission research, please contact info@srsl.com or T: +44 (0) 1631 559 470.

RV Calanus

R.V. Calanus is a 20m general purpose research vessels for inshore waters. She has a passage speed of nine knots and is suitable for trawling and benthic sampling, as well as hydrographic and acoustic surveys. She has a spacious afterdeck, a wet and dry laboratory, a scientific plot room and accommodation comprising a galley, mess and three twin cabins for overnight charters. She is filled with a Reson SeaBat 8124 multi-beam and analysis software as well as side-scan capabilities.

Calanus has a day capacity for 12 plus crew and overnight capacity for six plus crew. The crew comprise of a master, bosun, motorman and cook/deckhand. All have considerable experience in scientific work. RV Calanus has recently been modified with railing, seating and curtaining on top of the wheelhouse to enable bird and mammal observations.

She has undertaken research cruises in the northern end of the Irish Sea, Loch Ness, the Inner and Outer Hebrides and  the Shetland Isles. She is capable of working most inshore areas of the east and west coasts of Scotland, including the sea lochs.

R.V. Calanus was designed for SAMS by G.L. Watson (Naval Architects) Ltd. She was built in 1980 of West Afrikan iroko on teak frames by J. Hinks of Appledore in Devon.  She was designed as a general purpose research vessel for inshore waters.

Main laboratory (6.5m x 2m)

The benching is railed for palletisation as is the deck beneath. All benching is demountable apart from a corner sink unit. In total there is nearly 10m of continuous bench space. Stocking units up to 2m high can easily be accommodated and side rails allow easy fixing. Storage space is provided in a large walk-in locker. There is a hatch communicating with the wet lab. Electrical power is provided through four twin 13A, 240V sockets.

Wet laboratory (2m x 1.9m)

A freezer (10 ft3) is provided in this lab for scientific use. There is a large sink unit (twin sinks) with hot and cold freshwater and a direct seawater supply from the ship's sea water intake (ca 2m below the water line). Stainless steel benching (2.5m) is fitted and a demountable wooden work surface (3m) is supplied to enable the laboratory to be used as a dry laboratory.

Plot (2.5m x 3m)

This space is suitable for housing electronic equipment. There is approximately 3.5m of benching. Electrical power is provided via two twin, 13A 240V sockets. There is direct access to the upper working deck.


Accomodation is provided for six scientists in three twin cabins. Two of these are equipped with a sink and hot and cold water. Two shower and toilet compartments are shared with the officers. For day running only, Calanus has capacity for 12 extra persons, provided that adequate notice is given in advance.

A well equipped galley serves hot meals during working days. The mess also provides accommodation for relaxation, with comfortable bench settee seating, colour television and DVD player. The vessel is heated throughout by oil fired central heating.

Specification sheet RV Calanus

RV Seòl Mara

Designed in 1972, Seòl Mara is a 10.4m general purpose research vessel, well suited to use in confided upper reaches of sea lochs or shallow inshore waters.

She has a large open afterdeck (6m x 4m) with removable aft rail section (width 1.25m) to allow easy deployment of large gear or easy access of divers over the side. There is a bench area in the wheelhouse (1m x 0.6 m) for covered scientific working, and a covered dry hold area, which provides storage and mounting space for equipment, is accessible through a hatch (1.2m x 1.2m). There is a small galley and life-raft available.

Seòl Mara has capacity for 8 passengers and is operated by a crew experienced in scientific operations.

There are no sleeping facilities on board. Limited hot lunches and drinks are provided from a small galley.

Specification sheet RV Seol Mara

Dive boats

SAMS incorporates a diving centre and an active group of scientific divers. Diving is conducted from the R.V. Calanus, R.V. Seol Mara, and from three small boats: two RIBs and one Dory.

For more information on the dive boats, please contact the Head of Diving (Martin.Sayer@sams.ac.uk).

Sampling equipment

SAMS has a range of equipment suitable for sampling and measuring the marine environment along with the expertise to deploy the equipment and analyse samples and data.

Most of this equipment is available for use on our vessels and external hire.

We also have the capability to support, test and calibrate this equipment thanks to our workshop facilities and staff.

For sampling the sea bed

  • >Epi-benthic sled
  • >Anchor dredge
  • >Scallop dredge
  • >Reineck box corer
  • >Hamon Grab
  • >Van Veen grab (a range of sizes and applications)
  • >Smith/McIntyre grab
  • >Ring dredge
  • vNIOZ box corer vMega corer vMulticorer vCraib corer
  • >Gravity corer

For sampling plankton

  • >Gulf VII: high speed plankton sampler
  • >MIK: net sampler for larger plankton
  • >Ring nets: a selection of mesh sizes with and without flowmeters
  • >Submersible pumped plankton sampler 80 micron mesh to 200m
  • >Multtinet (Mocness)
  • >RMT (rectangular midwater trawl)

For fishing

  • >Beam trawl 2m
  • >Beam trawl 1.5m
  • >Otter trawl
  • >Beach seine 36m with 8mm centre panel mesh
  • >Beach seine  88m with 12mm centre mesh

For physical oceanography

  • >Valeport Midas CTD
  • >Seabird SB19+ CTD
  • >Seabird SB911+ CTD
  • >Castaway mini CTD
  • >ADCP: profiling and single point current meters
  • >Microcat CTD
  • >Miniloggers
  • >Remus 600 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle
  • >Seaglider
  • >Mooring equipment
  • >Water sampling and miscellaneous:
  • >Bowtech underwater TV
  • >Aquamonitor - automated water sampler
  • >Niskin bottles
  • >CTD rosette sampler
  • >Sea ice drill

Ocean Explorer Centre

The OEC is the visitor and outreach centre of SAMS. Here we share with visitors what we do, what we care about, and what we are finding. We welcome visiting school classes and special interest groups, who will explore our exhibits, dive deeper into individual topics through a variety of workshops and go down to our beach for a spot of outdoor education. The OEC also includes a small cinema room where we take you along to some of our expeditions and into the laboratory. 

The OEC includes the Cafe Scientifique and a small shop where we sell unusual marine science related products. 

We organise regular events in and around the OEC.

Opening hours

  • >Summer: Mon - Fri 10 am - 4 pm 
  • >Winter: Mon - Fri 11 am - 3 pm (closed from Christmas until the end of January)

Entrance is free but we depend on the generosity of visitors to keep the centre open...

Visit the Ocean Explorer Centre website for more...