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Einstein connects ASU professor, Holocaust survivor

August 2, 2023

Through brilliant new Webb Telescope images, researchers share proof of Albert Einstein theory with Arizona resident who met him 80 years ago

Werner Salinger is one of the few people still living who can recall talking to and being with Albert Einstein.

“He loved — just loved — being with kids. I was just a kid to him, you know?” Salinger says.

Salinger is now 92 years old. Born in Berlin, he survived the Holocaust when he and his parents fled Germany in 1939. But their escape would take the life of his mother, who contracted tuberculosis on their ship voyage to New York. A year later, he was living in Princeton, New Jersey.

Salinger’s grandmother was a friend of Frau Helen Dukas, Einstein’s secretary. When she would visit Princeton, Salinger’s grandmother would walk Werner down Mercer Street to the house where Einstein lived and worked. It was the early 1940s; World War II. Einstein himself had already fled Nazi Germany for the United States and Princeton years before the Salingers.

“He would take me by the hand and walk me through his garden,” Salinger says, “then back to his study, where he had a violin up on the wall. And he would take the violin down and play it for me.”  

Salinger could not have known it then, but this was also a time when Einstein was doing important work about physics, gravity, time and relativity. 

For example, work about distant gravitationally lensing clusters — where the gravitational pull of galaxies can be powerful enough to bend light shining from objects behind them.  

“These would be able to magnify and curve the image of galaxies behind the cluster,” says Rogier Windhorst, a Regents Professor at Arizona State University.

Windhorst was born in 1955, the same year Einstein died. But Einstein — both the man and his ideas — are now the connection between Salinger and Windhorst. The two happened to meet recently while speaking to a high school assembly.

Salinger, who lives in Gold Canyon, Arizona, was there to speak to students about the Holocaust; Windhorst, to speak about astrophysics. 

Windhorst is among the leading scientists unraveling the science behind the stunning images coming from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. It’s work that draws on Einstein’s ideas. So Windhorst invited Salinger to view large, new prints of some of the most impressive galaxies and clusters, including shots that show the gravitational lensing Einstein anticipated.

The strange effect can help scientists.

“Einstein predicted that these clusters would be able to magnify and curve images of galaxies behind the clusters,” Windhorst says. “Einstein got it exactly right in his prediction, but he doubted that it could ever be observed.”

Salinger, Windhorst and the rest of the world are now seeing some of what Einstein thought would never be seen, thanks to Webb.

“The way that these clusters of galaxies modify the images of the distant objects is just out of this world,” Windhorst says. “They get literally ‘spagettified’ into strings and pencils and weird-looking things.”

One of the strangest is “El Anzuelo” (the fishhook) — an image of a bright orange galaxy in the "El Gordo" galaxy cluster, pulled into a horseshoe shape by Einstein’s gravitational lensing.

MORE: Webb Telescope's gravitational lens reveals distant objects behind 'El Gordo' galaxy cluster

ASU postdoctoral researcher Patrick Kamieneski is on Windhorst’s Webb Telescope science team. He has used computational software to undo the bending and render what this galaxy looks like without the effects of gravity.

“It gets all distorted, and we have to account for that,” Kamieneski says. “But when we (unbend it), we can see the background object (in this case "El Anzuelo") at even higher resolution than Webb can give us, even on its own.”

“I call it Einstein’s fish hook,” Windhorst says.

He and the Webb Telescope team from the ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration shared their explanations with Salinger about what is going on in the images.

“I think it’s fair to say we were showing Werner Salinger what was in Einstein’s head when he met Einstein in the 1940s, in Princeton,” Windhorst says. “Einstein never lived to see these images, but he knew his theory was right. Werner was amazed to see these pictures. Einstein never got to see it, but Werner Salinger did.”

Steve Filmer

Manager , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Ayşe Çiftçi named director of ASU’s new School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology

School trains counselors, psychologists to prevent, treat psychological issues while promoting well-being of individuals, families, groups and organizations within a diverse society

August 2, 2023

ASU Professor Ayşe Çiftçi transitioned to her role as the inaugural director of the School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology — one of three new schools launched in Arizona State University’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts — on July 1.

After a distinguished 16-year tenure at Purdue University, which included service as department head, Çiftçi joined the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts in August 2022. Portrait of ASU School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology Director Ayşe Çiftçi standing in front of blurred outdoor vegetation at ASU Tempe campus. Professor Ayşe Çiftçi began her role as director of ASU's School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology, part of the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, on July 1. Çiftçi joined the college a year ago as faculty head, after having served in a similar leadership role at Purdue University. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News Download Full Image

“Since joining ASU, Ayşe has been collaborating with College of Integrative Sciences and Arts faculty, staff and other partners at ASU and in the community to add distinctive degrees and programs that will help prepare the next generation of counselors and counseling psychologists,” said College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Dean Joanna Grabski. “Given the U.S. mental health crisis and shortage of qualified professionals in this field, we are committed to leading positive change in this critical area. Our undergraduate majors in counseling and applied psychological science are some of the fastest growing in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, both at the Polytechnic campus and online.”

Çiftçi has authored more than 40 peer-reviewed publications, has co-led research funded by the National Science Foundation and frequently gives keynote lectures and presentations across the U.S. and internationally. Throughout her career as a leader and scholar, Çiftçi has been committed to identifying critical factors affecting the mental health of individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds and developing interventions that will help build more inclusive environments in educational and training settings.

Active in the American Psychological Association (APA), Çiftçi was awarded APA’s 2014 Presidential Citation, and she is an APA Fellow in Divisions 17 (counseling psychology) and 52 (international psychology).

Çiftçi earned a PhD in counseling psychology at the University of Memphis. She holds a Master of Science in psychological counseling and guidance and a Bachelor of Science in educational sciences, both from Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey.

ASU News spoke with Çiftçi to find out more about her past work, some of her interests and her perspective on this new position.

Question: What excites you most about your new role and the elevation to school status of Counseling and Counseling Psychology the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts?

Answer: I am extremely excited about the possibilities and opportunities ahead of us as a new School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology. The new organizational structure will increase efficiency and will better align with that of other ASU schools. Our new structure will provide even more space and opportunities for innovative programs and collaboration within the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and across ASU.

In our school we have academic programs that run the gamut from bachelor’s degrees to the PhD, so I see that as a unique strength. We are expanding our existing undergraduate degree options as well as our Master of Counseling programs.

The School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology aligns closely with the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts' emphasis on applied degrees and its career-connected learning focus. As a faculty, properly training counselors and psychologists has always meant building in clinical, hands-on experiences. We have a strong practicum opportunity in place at our Tempe campus with our Counselor Training Center, which provides counseling services to the community. Given our increasing presence at ASU Polytechnic campus, we are planning to expand our services and community connections in the East Valley.

I moved to ASU a year ago because of the university’s emphasis on innovation and the countless possibilities for Counseling and Counseling Psychology. I am very excited that we now have the organizational structure to do even more of that.

Q: If you had to give a short elevator pitch to a prospective student about why they should consider pursuing a degree from the School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology, what would you say?

A: It depends on how tall the building is! We are living in a world that is becoming increasingly complicated and challenging, particularly for marginalized communities. In the School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology we train counselors and psychologists to become culturally competent to work with diverse communities in a variety of mental health settings. Our faculty set us apart because of their commitment to students, scholarship and their connections with local, national and international communities. We also offer bachelor’s degrees that may lead to certifications and licensures — rare at the undergraduate level.

Q: The College of Integrative Sciences and Arts emphasizes career-connected learning. Tell us about your first job; what was the most important or most memorable lesson you learned?

A: After losing my father in my first year in college in Turkey, I decided to work to keep myself busy outside of school. It was at a rehabilitation center for children with behavioral and developmental disorders. I had planned to work there for a semester, but I ended up working there for four years.

Working with the children and their families, I learned to be patient and creative in trying different approaches and interventions. I learned to celebrate even small steps and minor progress with great joy. I also learned it’s OK to be patient with yourself and that you need to persist. You can’t just give up the first time something doesn’t work. Don’t be afraid of failing. That job also confirmed how important it is for me to be working with a community that I feel I can directly help and learn from — where we can problem-solve and innovate together.

Q: When or how did you realize you wanted to pursue this field in higher education?

A: In Turkey we have a national exam at the end of high school that determines college placement and major. I wanted to study psychology or journalism, and based on my scores, I was placed in a psychological counseling and guidance major in one of the top-two universities in the country. I knew counseling psychology was the right field for me as soon as I started taking courses because of its holistic approach to well-being.

I decided to stay in academe because I’ve always been a curious person. I love learning and changing as a result of new knowledge, producing new knowledge, contributing to knowledge. Universities are heaven for that! You cannot remain static.

Change is such a core concept in my life. You can’t be an immigrant without being open to new and different ways of learning and living. You can’t improve or develop without being open to change. This is why I moved to ASU: Change is not only possible at this university, it is valued.

Q:  Tell us more about some of the exciting degree programs and community partnerships in the approval and planning stages for the School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology?

A: We’re especially excited about our new school counseling program developed in partnership with Mesa Public Schools, the largest school district in Arizona. With the mental health crisis in schools, we were approached by the school district to develop ways to increase educational pathways for future school counselors. Our students in this concentration will receive the Master of Counseling degree in school counseling and will have internship opportunities in Mesa Public Schools.

We have also just launched a new undergraduate concentration in sports and performance counseling. We have several other exciting programs in development, including an online Master of Counseling degree program, an undergraduate concentration in counseling military members and veterans, and a graduate certificate in Spanish for mental health professionals, which is a great example of collaboration with faculty in the humanities in our School of Applied Sciences and Arts.

Q: What are some of the ways you recharge and take care of your mental health?

A: I am a runner. Since moving to Arizona, I am still trying to get back into the training cycle, but I ran two marathons after entering middle age and registered for my first marathon in Arizona. When I run, I disconnect from emails and phones, and it provides me with a space for reflection and balance. I also just love the experience of running outdoors.

I love to travel and get lost in the streets of a new place and communicate with people even if I may not speak the language. I try to travel every year to parts of the world I haven’t been before. I like to define myself as a cultural explorer. I always gain a new perspective about life and about the beautiful cultural diversity of this world, and these experiences impact the way I do my job every day.

Maureen Roen

Director of Communications, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts