The collagen gel has been used to study epithelial-mesenchymal transformation (EMT) for over 30 years. With advances in the field of materials sciences, new options are available to design optically clear, three-dimensional nature-inspired matrix mimetics to study EMT. Here, we review the history of the collagen gel assay, discuss its current use and how newer artificial matrices can be built to simulate in vivo extracellular environments and investigate important current questions in the EMT field. We suggest that further collaborations between materials scientists and biologists will be critical to move the field of EMT forward. Developmental Dynamics 247:332-339, 2018. (c) 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.