There’s a powerful integration trick that I don’t believe is too widely known. Some calculus books mention it in a footnote, but few emphasize it. This is unfortunate since this trick applies to more problems than many of the more ad hoc techniques that are commonly taught.
Karl Weierstrass (1815-1897) came up with the idea of using t = tan(x/2) to convert trig functions of x to rational functions of t. If t = tan(x/2), then
- sin(x) = 2t/(1 + t2)
- cos(x) = (1 – t2) / (1 + t2)
- dx = 2 dt/(1 + t2).
This means that any integral of a rational function of sines and cosines can be converted to an integral of rational function of t. And any rational function of t can be integrated in closed form by using partial fraction decomposition, though the partial fraction decomposition may need to be performed numerically.
I call this the sledgehammer technique because it’s overkill for the simplest trig integrals; other less general techniques are easier to apply in such problems. On the other hand, Weierstrass’ technique is very general and can evaluate integrals that look impossible at first glance.