By Jill Dougherty, CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
Have an idea about how to prevent "loose nukes" from falling into the hands of terrorists? The State Department wants to hear from you.
The department is launching what it's calling the Innovation in Arms Control Challenge, which urges "garage tinkerers and technologists ... gadget entrepreneurs and students," to come up with innovative new ideas to support U.S. arms control and nonproliferation efforts.
For winners there will be an award of up to $10,000.
Arms control diplomacy, usually considered the arcane specialty of nerdy and secretive scientists, began at the height of the Cold War, but it's now happening in the open and it's changing fast.
With the explosion in information technologies, the State Department believes there are plenty of ideas out there to make arms control more transparent. For example, in announcing the challenge, the State Department asks: "Can smart phone and tablet applications be created for the purpose of aiding on-site inspectors in verifying and monitoring armaments and sensitive materials?"
Rose Gottemoeller, acting under-secretary of state for arms control and international security, a self-described "arms control policy wonk and negotiator," calls the challenge an "experiment in (innovative) thinking."
She said the State Department is asking if there are "new ways that we can use existing data, such as Twitter streams, to generate information that will be useful to arms control and nonproliferation verification and monitoring? Are there ways that we can help our inspectors to do their jobs better, by having better tools available? Are there ways that governments and citizens can work together to ensure better monitoring and verification of treaties and agreements?"
The call for innovative ideas comes as the Obama administration is moving to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, but Gottemoeller, who negotiates America's arms control treaties, says officials also are looking for ways to monitor things such as chemical munitions in storage facilities.
"We're basically trying to see what's out there," said an administration official familiar with the challenge but not authorized to speak on the record. "What available technology is out there that can help us? What is being put into practice in other areas - it could be unrelated to arms control - that actually would have similar implications for what we're trying to do?"
The Innovation in Arms Control Challenge runs until October 26, and is open to all U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
Interested innovators can register at: www.innocentive.com/ar/challenge/9933144