Serious research using not-so-serious equipment? We don’t know about that. What’s wrong with using LEGO as a research platform for a Maglev? This team has been doing so for quite some time and with great results.
A Maglev is a vehicle based on the principles of magnetic levitation. Similar poles of magnets repel each other and this concept can be used to create a friction-less track system. But this raises the problems of braking and locomotion. The build log linked above covers the conception in what is the eighth iteration of the research project. But the video below offers the most concise explanation of their approach to these issues.
The researchers are using magnets positioned in trench of the track as a kind of magnetic gear to push against. A series of electromagnets on the Lego vehicle ride in that track. The can be energized, working as a linear motor to push against those permanent magnets. But how do you know which direction of travel this will cause? That problem was solved by adding a hall effect sensor between each electromagnet. Before switching on the coil the hall effect sensors are polled and a timing scheme is selected based on their value. This is used to push the train up to speed, as well as slow it down for braking.