Vogel was born in Beacon, New York, and educated there and in Poughkeepsie. He graduated from Tufts University and was awarded his graduate degrees from Harvard University. Vogel joined Duke University as an assistant professor in the Zoology department in 1966, and taught there for 40 years, eventually retiring as professor emeritus.
Over the course of his professional career, Vogel, along with Stephen Wainwright and R. McNeil Alexander, played a fundamental role in the establishment of the discipline of biomechanics, and was a prolific author of popular works on the intersection of physics and biology. His research projects included studies of ventilation currents in prairie dog burrows, flight in tiny insects, leaf streamlining, how air passes through feathery moth antennae, and the mechanics of jet propulsion in squid and scallops. Vogel died of cancer in Durham on November 24, 2015.
- Life in Moving Fluids: The Physical Biology of Flow. Princeton University Press (1981; 2nd ed. 1996).
- Life's Devices: The Physical World of Animals and Plants. Princeton University Press (1988).
- Vital Circuits: On Pumps, Pipes, and the Workings of Circulatory Systems. Oxford University Press (1993).
- Cats' Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People. W.W. Norton (1998).
- Prime Mover: a Natural History of Muscle. W. W. Norton & Co. (2002).
- Comparative Biomechanics: Life's Physical World. Princeton University Press (2003).
- Glimpses of Creatures in Their Mechanical Worlds. Princeton University Press (2009).
- The Life of a Leaf. University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226104775 (2012).
- Why the Wheel Is Round: Muscles, Technology, and How We Make Things Move. University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226381039 (2016).
- "With deep sadness". Duke Biology. November 25, 2015. Retrieved November 26, 2015.
- "Dr. Steven Vogel Obituary". The News & Observer. November 27, 2015. Retrieved December 8, 2015.
- Gorman, James (December 3, 2015). "Steven Vogel, Biologist Who Studied How Things Move, Dies at 75". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
- Denny, Mark (Nov–Dec 2010). "The Joys of Speculation". American Scientist. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
- "Steven Vogel, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus". Duke Department of Biology. Retrieved November 26, 2015.