The $6 million project is being paid for with a $3.5 million National Science Foundation grant and an additional $2.5 million from Unisys in the form of advanced computer technologies and training.
The effort began with a demonstration linking the boardroom of the Franklin Institute and a class of sixth graders from Cottage Grove, Minn.
Pupils and their teacher, Christine Collins, could be seen on a computer screen in the institute boardroom. The two dozen dignitaries gathered in Philadelphia could be seen on the school monitor.
The sound was a bit squeaky and the moving images a bit jerky, but the point was that students at remote sites could share their learning experiences.
The link allows pupils, teachers - and anyone else with access to the Internet - to reach the Franklin Institute and five other museums in the project.
The museums will offer subject areas in which they have expertise. By choosing key words in the text on their screens, computer users will be able to move to other sources of information at other points around the world.
For example, students working on earthquakes and volcanoes could use the system to gather pictures, graphics, sound, text and even video available through the Internet at various locations around the world.
Franklin Institute will have a special section focusing on the life and many talents of Benjamin Franklin. Text, pictures, video and even sound will be used to highlight Franklin's abilities.
Christine Collins said the system would open a world of resources to her pupils. The children will also benefit by being able to see projects done by other students and then either emulate or improve upon them, she said.
The new learning system will create a dedicated science lane so that teachers and students won't have to spend hours cruising for information.
"There is a lot of junk on the Internet of no use" to the elementary- school community, said Stephen H. Baumann, Franklin Institute project director for the science learning network.
Other museums participating are The Exploratorium of San Francisco; Miami Museum of Science; the Boston Museum of Science; the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Each of the museums will join with an elementary school in its area to implement the program. All the schools will get some top-shelf computing equipment from Unisys, along with instruction for the faculty on how to use it.
"I think together we will find out how to make the information highway useful for all of us," said Bell of Unisys.
Unisys also is setting up a cadre of cyberspace volunteers who will be able to answer questions for teachers and students via the Internet connection.
The Franklin Institute has chosen a Philadelphia public school for its partner, but the name of the school was not announced because the arrangements have not been completed, Franklin spokeswoman Elaine Wilner said.
For computer users with access to the World Wide Web, the address of Franklin Institute's new virtual museum is http://sln.fi.edu.