When he was 7 years old, painter Edward Belbruno entered an art store in downtown New London and bought his first set of paint, canvas and linseed oil.
With those supplies, Belbruno painted a rendition of a moon of Saturn which impressed all the adults in his life and was the start of what he now calls his "curse."
"I was naturally gifted in art," Belbruno says in a phone interview from Princeton, N.J., where he is a visiting researcher in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University.
That's right, astrophysics.
Belbruno is among the world's foremost proponents of chaos theory, which led to him to map trajectories for sending satellites and other spacecraft into space.
And starting Thursday at Hygienic Art Gallery, Belbruno's two worlds will collide in his hometown for local audiences.
Dubbed "Cosmic Chaotic Pathways," the show will feature recent works by Belbruno as well as paintings inspired by his career by New York-based artist Joan Meyer. Also, 11 local artists will present original works inspired by Belbruno's research and paintings.
Vinnie Scarano, president of Hygienic Art, is particularly excited about the local contributions.
"It's good for the art community," Scarano says.
Belbruno, 61, was born on the American Air Force base in Heidelberg, Germany, but moved to his parents' native New London when he was 2 years old.
He remembers his childhood and teenage years here with considerable fondness and recalled with a palpable delight the active downtown area, teeming with sailors and shoppers.
"My youth in New London was incredibly fantastic," Belbruno says. "I remember everyone going out to clubs and going dancing."
Belbruno, a self-confessed hippie, graduated from New London High School in 1969 and then enrolled at Mitchell College, where he wasn't exactly a model student.
"I had a residual 1960s attitude," he notes.
Following one mediocre semester at Mitchell, Belbruno said he "buckled down" and wowed his professors with his aptitude for mathematics.
From there, he went on to study at New York University and eventually taught at Boston University and then worked for a time at Jet Propulsion Laboratories, the federally funded research institute near Pasadena, Calif.
All the time, though, Belbruno said he kept "going back to my art."
"I could have easily had an art career," Belbruno says.
Apart from the celestial subject matter, Belbruno said there isn't much crossover from the laboratory to the art studio.
"It's diametrically opposite," he notes.
Belbruno sets aside his logical nature and enters a "trance state" when he paints.
"I'm unrecognizable," Belbruno said. "Five hours will pass and it will feel like a few minutes."
Belbruno's early paintings included depictions of outer space and "alien" landscapes. Eventually, Belbruno's colors grew brighter, and his paintings, which have hung in galleries in Paris, Los Angeles, Rome and other major cities, became more abstract.
His most recent work features swirling, brilliant washes of red, a departure from his typical blue palette.
"I used to be more comfortable in blues, but I began craving reds," Belbruno explains.
Belbruno said he visits New London occasionally to visit friends and maybe hit the beach, but what he truly loves about the city are the people.
"Whenever I bring people to New London, they are always impressed by the personalities," Belbruno says.
Asked to describe the denizens of his hometown the renowned astrophysicist gives a slightly ironic answer.
"They're down to earth."