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Cristin Dorgelo: Looking for modern 'moon shots'

21 May 2014 Last updated at 03:44 BST

Cristin Dorgelo is the assistant director for Grand Challenges at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. It's her job to help every government agency develop tools to harness innovation and solve the biggest problems facing the US and the world.

She oversees incentive prizes, bounties for problems solved in creative ways, and grand challenges, what she calls "21st-century moon shoots".

"They are audacious yet achievable goals that will allow us to harness the public's imagination and solve big problems," she says.

Formerly on staff at the XPrize, a private company that uses incentives to push for such goals as private space flight, Dorgelo has taken the concept of prizes to the White House.

During her tenure, the federal government has held more than 300 competitions, such as a Department of Energy grand challenge to make solar energy cost-competitive with more traditional sources by the end of the decade, and a grand challenge issued by NASA to plan for asteroid threats to the public.

Though technology breakthroughs are often thought of as the work of a single visionary, the pull and power of the federal government makes it an ideal partner for private-sector innovators. And by pairing with citizen scientists and independent technology companies, the government can locate and put into practice efficient, effective solutions.

The BBC visited Dorgelo in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where she talked about her job and how the structure of these competitions encourages women innovators.

Produced by Kate Dailey. Filmed and edited by Franz Strasser.

Footage of the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge courtesy of XPrize

Women in Tech is a series of stories profiling the most innovative, pioneering and successful women and how they are changing an industry traditionally dominated by men.

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