Zhou, a native of Yixing, Jiangsu Province, was born in 1902. He graduated from Tsinghua School in 1924 (now Tsinghua University). In 1928, Zhou received a doctor's degree as well as the highest honorary award from the California Institute of Technology. He then conducted scientific research at the University of Leipzig and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. He made great contributions to the theory of turbulence and conducted research on the theories of relativity and gravitation under Albert Einstein's instruction.
After returning to China, Zhou taught at both Tsinghua University and Southwest Associated University. After 1949, he became a professor at Peking University and later served as President of the University. Zhou also served as vice chairman of the 5th, 6th and 7th National Committees of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the President of China's International Association for Promotion of Science and Technology. He made huge strides in developing science and technology in China, as well as in the areas of world peace and international academic exchange.
Zhou passed away on November 24, 1993, at the age of 91.