Interested in participating in scientific endeavors as a private citizen? There are a wide variety of ways to get involved. For instance, I've heard about amateur astronomers making important contributions to their field. Amateur paleontologists, too. On a more personal level, last year our family did the Great Backyard Bird Count.
On their Citizen Science pages, Scientific American collects information about projects that non-specialists can join. (The projects are not U.S.-specific, so international citizen scientists are encouraged to check them out.)
GO Fight against Malaria
There is no reliable cure or vaccine for the prevention and treatment of all forms of malaria—particularly the drug-resistant strains caused by Plasmodium falciparum, which kills more people than any other parasite and is of particular interest to the researchers.
Scripps Research and IBM are encouraging anyone in the world with a personal computer to join World Community Grid, which will crunch numbers and perform simulations for GO Fight against Malaria. World Community Grid, an initiative of the IBM International Foundation, is fed by spare computing power from the nearly two million PCs that have been volunteered so far by 575,000 people in more than 80 countries. It gives each PC small computing assignments to perform when the devices aren't otherwise being used by its owners, then sends the results to scientists seeking a faster way to cure disease, find renewable energy materials, create clean water techniques, or develop healthier food staples.
By tapping into World Community Grid Scripps Research scientists hope to compress 100 years of computations normally necessary for the effort into just one year.
Also, visit SciStarter ("Science We Can Do Together") for more ideas.
A page about great amateurs in science