Olof Rudbeck was born in Uppsala, Sweden as the son of Olaus Rudbeck Sr. (1630–1702). He father was a noted scientist professor of medicine at Uppsala University. Rudbeck took his doctor's degree at the Utrecht University in 1690. Returning to his home country in 1692, he succeeded his father as professor of medicine at Uppsala University. Serving aside Lars Roberg (1664-1742), he specialized in anatomy, botany, zoology, and pharmacology, while Roberg gave lectures in medicine, surgery, physiology, and chemistry.
He traveled to Lapland in 1695, joining an expedition commissioned by the King Charles XI of Sweden (1655–1697), for which his mission was to study nature, the mountainous region in particular. He returned and published Lapponia illustrata, an album of beautifully colored pictures of birds, flowers and scenery, for which he is best remembered.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Rudbeck turned his attention away from nature studies to speculation about the relationship between Sami languages to Finnish and Hungarian.
To honor his accomplishments (and posthumously, those of his namesake father), he was ennobled in 1719 by Queen Ulrika Eleonora, Queen of Sweden (1688–1741), as a "naturalized nobleman" (noble family of Rudbeck, nr. 1637). His student, the botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), named a genus of flowers Rudbeckia in honor of him and his father.