The self-similar evolution to turbulence of a multi-mode miscible Rayleigh–Taylor (RT) mixing layer has been investigated for Atwood numbers 0.03–0.6, using an air–helium gas channel experiment. Two co-flowing gas streams, one containing air (on top) and the other a helium–air mixture (at the bottom), initially flowed parallel to each other at the same velocity separated by a thin splitter plate. The streams met at the end of the splitter plate, with the downstream formation of a buoyancy unstable interface, and thereafter buoyancy-driven mixing. This buoyancy-driven mixing layer experiment permitted long data collection times, short transients and was statistically steady. Several significant designs and operating characteristics of the gas channel experiment are described that enabled the facility to be successfully run for At ~ 0.6. We report, and discuss, statistically converged measurements using digital image analysis and hot-wire anemometry. In particular, two hot-wire techniques were developed for measuring the various turbulence and mixing statistics in this air–helium RT experiment. Data collected and discussed include: mean density profiles, growth rate parameters, various turbulence and mixing statistics, and spectra of velocity, density and mass flux over a wide range of Atwood numbers (0.03 ≤ At ≤ 0.6). In particular, the measured data at the small Atwood number (0.03–0.04) were used to evaluate several turbulence-model constants. Measurements of the root mean square (r.m.s.) velocity and density fluctuations at the mixing layer centreline for the large At case showed a strong similarity to lower At behaviours when properly normalized. A novel conditional averaging technique provided new statistics for RT mixing layers by separating the bubble (light fluid) and spike (heavy fluid) dynamics. The conditional sampling highlighted differences in the vertical turbulent mass flux, and vertical velocity fluctuations, for the bubbles and spikes, which were not otherwise observable. Larger values of the vertical turbulent mass flux and vertical velocity fluctuations were found in the downward-falling spikes, consistent with larger growth rates and momentum of spikes compared with the bubbles.
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