The White House announced yesterday that it would nominate Walter E. Massey, a physicist from the University of Chicago, as the new director of the National Science Foundation.

The nomination of 52-year-old administrator and scientist was enthusiastically endorsed yesterday by academic scientists and players in the Washington science policy scene.

If confirmed by the Senate, Massey will replace former director Erich Bloch, who left the National Science Foundation (NSF) last month at the end of an often stormy six-year term.

"Walter Massey is a wonderful guy. I think everyone will be pleased," said Richard Nicholson, a former NSF official and now executive director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest general science organization in the country. "He's got solid science credentials, solid academic credentials and solid science policy credentials."

NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $2 billion that funds basic science except medical and military research.

Massey, a professor of physics, is also vice president for research at University of Chicago. He was formerly director of Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago and still oversees research at the lab. He currently serves on the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology and is vice president of the American Physical Society. Massey is also a former chairman of the American Association for the Advancment of Science.

Massey declined yesterday to discuss specific goals for NSF, but said he hopes to continue to focus on science and math education for youngsters and graduate students. A graduate of the traditionally black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Massey received his advanced degrees at Washington University in St. Louis. He has often spoken of the need to encourage more minority participation in science.

Massey said he is also interested in devising better ways to take research from the laboratory to industry and ways to strengthen research at universities and the national laboratories.

"I think he is close to an ideal appointment as you could find," said Robert Rosenzweig, president of the Association of American Universities. "He's got the respect of the entire community."