Robert Cecil Olby (born in London in 1933) is a research professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Formerly at the University of Leeds, UK, Robert Olby is known as a historian of 19th and 20th century biology, his special fields being genetics and molecular biology. He is well known for his work on the history of biology (see list of works at his webpage). He is known outside of biology, having frequently been asked to participate in various commemorations of famous scientific events (example) and to comment on science topics for the mass media (example).
He completed a scientific biography of the late Francis Crick, co-discoverer with James D. Watson of the structure of DNA in 1953 published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press on 25 August 2009, with support from the National Science Foundation and the award of an Archives Fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge. The biography has 21 chapters and is 450 pages long. Its publication before Crick's death in 2004 was disallowed by Crick; at 166,000 words the new book is the best scientific biography of the late Francis Crick to date and is entitled Francis Crick: Hunter of Life's Secrets, after an article in The New York Times on February 2, 1962.
His major contribution to the history of molecular biology is well documented in The History of the University of Cambridge: Volume 4 (1870 to 1990) published by CUP in 1992, by direct reference to his The Path to the Double Helix: The Discovery of DNA, first published in 1974, and revised and republished in 1994. His Francis Crick biography was the pinnacle of a long career in scientific writing during which he has interviewed many leading British and American scientists including Bernal, Brenner, Crick, Huxley, Klug, Perutz, Watson and Wilkins.
His family includes daughters Fleur Olby, the well known artist and Professor Natasha Olby of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Books and papers by Robert Olby
- Charles Darwin; Oxford University Press, London, 1967, 64pp.
- The Origins of Mendelism; Constable 1966. 204 pages ISBN 0-226-62592-3
- The Twentieth Century Sciences, Studies in the Biography of Ideas, edited by Gerald Holton; W.W. Norton & Co., New York 1972: article "Francis Crick, DNA, and the Central Dogma".
- 'Rosalind Elsie Franklin' biography in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, ed. Charles C. Gillespie (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons) ISBN 0-684-10121-1
- The Path to the Double Helix: The Discovery of DNA; University of Washington Press, Seattle 1974 & revised 1994) ISBN 0-486-68117-3
- Companion to the History of Modern Science (ed.); Routledge, London, 1990, 1081pp. ISBN 0-415-01988-5
- "Robert Darlington: Forgotten Prophet of Genetics", American Scientist Nov-Dec 2004
- "Quiet debut for the double helix" Nature 421 (January 23, 2003): 402-405.
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:‘Huxley, Sir Julian Sorell (1887–1975)’, first published Sept 2004, 2680 words
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: ‘Bernal, (John) Desmond (1901–1971)’, first published Sept 2004, 2870 words, with portrait illustration
- "Francis Crick: Hunter of Life's Secrets", Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, ISBN 978-0-87969-798-3, published 25 August 2009; 450 pp; and Peter Lawrence's review in "Current Biology" .
Contents: Time Line Introduction 1. The Call to Stockholm 2. A Difficult Act to Follow 3. From the Provinces to the Big City 4. War Work for the Royal Navy 5. Biology at the Strangeways 6. Helical Molecules at the Cavendish Laboratory 7. The DNA Fiasco 8. "Two Pitchmen in Search of A Helix" (Erwin Chargaff) 9. A Most Important Discovery 10. Publishing the Model 11. Employed by "the John Wayne of Crystallography" (Vittorio Luzzati) 12. The Genetic Code 13. Preaching the Central Dogma 14. Crick as Experimentalist 15. The Excitement of the Sixties 16. Speaking out on Controversial Subjects 17. Biological Complexity 18. Leaving the 'Old Country 19. Taking the Plunge: Neuroscience 20. From the Searchlight to the Soul 21. Eighty Eight Years Biographical Index Subject Index [166,000 words in total]
‘Crick, Francis Harry Compton (1916–2004)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Jan 2008*
'Perutz, Max Ferdinand (1914-2002), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Jan 2008*
'Wilkins, Maurice Hugh Frederick (1916-2004), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edn, Oxford University Press, Jan 2008*
- Robert Olby
- His Australian lecture, March 2010
- Late Night Live Interview
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_Spring_Harbor_Laboratory for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
- Robert C. Olby Collection
- Quotes on Linus Pauling and The Race for DNA from the Oregon State University web site.
- Article on Consciousness Independent On Line, 7 June 2006.
- For Fleur Olby's web site.
- For Martin Packer's web site: Remembering Francis Crick.
-  "Correspondence between Crick and Robert Olby regarding draft chapters of Olby (1974) The Path to the Double Helix: the Discovery of DNA , and Crick's detailed comments on portions of Olby's draft text. The comments (in holograph and typescript) are divided into three types: 'Very General Remarks', 'Less General Remarks' and 'Detailed Remarks'. In addition, Crick has made editorial amendments to his 'recorded remarks' made in interview. Also included is Crick's 'Foreword' (in holograph and typescript drafts) to the book." (The Wellcome Library)