Every month, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN—the longest-running magazine in the U.S. and an authoritative voice in science, technology and innovation—provides insight into scientific topics that affect our daily lives and capture our imagination, establishing the vital bridge between science and public policy.

>> Key information from this month’s issue:

Our next big cybersecurity problem could be the take down of the electrical grids that are imperative to keeping thelights on in U.S. cities. The vulnerabilities and holes in the system that opened up Iran’s nuclear program to the Stuxnet virus last summer are present in our own electrical grids. To close these gaps we need more concerted efforts, such as cryptographictechniques that act as signatures or physical security checks at grid operator workstations. See Hacking The Lights Out

Extensive health care systems could make use of the large amount of data already stored in health records to help physicians better assess treatment options while reining in costs. The scientific basis for many medical treatments is often flimsy or even nonexistent; however, the cost of rigorously testing all potential treatments is often prohibitive, ranging in cost up to hundreds of millions of dollars. One financially and medically feasible method for determining which therapies are most effective would be to tap into medical records already available through large health networks. Another option, practiced by the Department of Veterans Affairs, is to follow up with patients once they are discharged from hospitals. See The Best Medicine and Science Agenda

Since 2004, biofuels from crops have almost doubled global demand for grain and sugar and increased the yearly growth in demand for vegetable oil by 30 percent. When viewed against the backdrop of steadily rising demand for food, the combination of low stocks and the anticipation of greater demand for biofuels has sent prices skyward. Several economists and politicians note that the demand for more biofuels may be undermining our moral obligation to provide food for the world’s hungry. See Forum

As a global average, education accounts for 51 percent of the decline in child mortality—the biggest influence by far—according to a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Educated women, it seems, make wiser choices about hygiene, nutrition, immunization and contraception. See Graphic Science

In recent years HIV has begun to take a disproportionate toll on the southern U.S. The American South (17 states including District of Columbia) make up only 36 percent of the total population, but account for half of 45,000 new cases in 2009. Poverty, culture and prejudice help to explain the high number of HIV/AIDS cases in the southern U.S. See The Science of Health: Poor Man’s Burden

Surprising new evidence suggests the pace of the earth’s most abrupt prehistoric warm-up paled in comparison to what we face today. Today’s much faster temperature change causes great concern because it suggests that the consequences for life on earth will be harsher than anything that has come before. See The Last Great Global Warming