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Omega Optical Celebrates its 50th Anniversary!

Robert Johnson founded Omega Optical on January 1, 1969 after working for a short time With Edgar Barr and the original Thin Film Products group. He put together a lab in a small barn in West Brattleboro, Vermont, with an assortment of electronic scrap and discarded vacuum equipment from Boston area equipment dealers and set out to test the limits of optical thin film design and manufacture.

As one of the only thin-film optics companies in the US working with the academic and development communities, business grew swiftly, reaching one million in sales within four years. Omega soon outgrew the barn on Bob’s property,  and moved to a beautiful, but abandoned, stone church in nearby Brattleboro, VT. The initial focus was on increasing coating complexity and expanding the spectral range into the UV and NIR. Over time, Omega moved to progressively larger spaces in Brattleboro, settling in 2006, on the Delta Campus outside of town.

The technology at Omega has evolved dramatically over the last 50 years. Thin-film deposition was originally performed with resistively heated systems and manual deposition control. More energetic processes have been added such as electron-beam and ion-assisted evaporation, allowing the  deposition of virtually any material. Computer programs were written to speed design modeling and to control the operation and monitoring of the deposition process. Just after moving to Delta Campus, Omega purchased the first plasma-assisted reactive magnetron sputtering chamber in the US. These systems have become the workhorses of the company because of their ability to realize complex coating designs of several hundred layers, up to 40 microns thick.  The resulting films are exceptionally durable and dense, enabling extremely steep spectral edges with both high transmission and blocking. This increases the signal -to-noise by orders of magnitude for detection of small signals such as fluorescence, Raman and laser-based space communications and LIDAR.

Omega has a reputation for independence and creativity which has led to several fruitful collaborations with high-profile space agencies. One of the first was a European Space initiative to spectrally analyse Halley’s Comet. Omega provided a monolithic substrate with 10 spectral bands, and completed the project within six months.   Later, Omega filters were used on both Hubble space telescope repair missions and all three Mars Rovers. As Omega begins its next 50 years, the potential for high-quality optical coatings has never been greater. As Bob Johnson is fond of saying, “there’s no end in light”.