William E. Wright, 57, a physicist and official of the National Science Foundation, died of cancer Thursday at his home in Bethesda.

He joined NSF as deputy director of the division of mathematical and physical sciences in 1966, became director and then was named senior planning officer when the division became the mathematical and physical sciences, and engineering directorate several years ago.

Born in Evanston, III., Mr. Wright earned a degree in mathematics from DePauw University and a doctorate in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he as a research associate from 1947 to 1950.

He then joined the nuclear physics branch of the Office of Naval Research. He was named head of the branch three years later. IN 1962, he became director of the physical sciences division.

While with the Office of Naval Research, Mr! Wright received the Navy's Suoerior Accomplishment Award for his contributions to the development of a national program in high energy physics. He also received the Meritorious Service Award and the Superior Accomplishment Award from the National Science Foundation.

Mr. Wright served with the Navy in World War II.

He is survived by his wife, Margarer, and a daughter, Leslie Wright, of the home; a son Michael, of Riverside, Calif.; two other daughters, Margaret Schultz, of Sliver Spring, and Saras Wright, of Glen Burnie; two brothers, Robert, of Port Washington, N.Y., and John, of Greencastle, Ind., and one grandchild.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Societryor Childrens Hospital.