19th century engraving of Homunculus from Goethe's Faust part II

Over the past 100 years or more, it had been observed that purely physical and chemical phenomena sometimes exhibit the properties of living matter, such as growth and division. This inspired research towards the creation of artificial forms of life from both organic and inorganic sources. Often these attempts were inspired by the question of how life arose on the Earth. It was demonstrated that certain kinds of material self-assembled to form structures that behaved and looked like cellular life. Such structures were studied for their ability to act like normal living cells, specifically their ability to replicate, metabolize, move, etc. Although none of these studies over the past century satisfactorily produced an artificial cell, they shaped the way that we think about life and living matter as well as the way that we can approach this very challenging and controversial research.