Explosion! Renaissance! Revolution! Tsunami! This is the sort of (admittedly overblown) language you might have overheard at the first-ever large-scale conference on citizen science, to describe the recent growth of the phenomenon whereby people from outside the academy contribute valuable observations and data to those working within it.
Thanks to programs on websites like Scistarter and Citizen Science Central, anyone who wants to can affect the scientific record by studying squirrels, counting herring, collecting rainfall, planting chestnuts, designing proteins, hunting for archeological sites, measuring snow, listening for noise pollution, finding ladybugs, and documenting road kill. You can join a small, local citizen-science project going on in your nearest city park, forest, stream, or public school. Or you can be a part of a much larger program: some 500,000 people so far have participated in GalaxyZoo, in which participants help map the universe by analyzing the shapes of galaxies.