She is the second Indian economist to be appointed as IMF chief economist after Raghuram Rajan, who later served as Reserve Bank Governor.
Gopinath will succeed Maurice (Maury) Obstfeld, who would retire at the end of 2018, the IMF said.
She currently serves as the John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and Economics at Harvard University.
Earlier in 2016, her appointment as financial advisor to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had generated controversy as some communist leaders questioned the CPM-led state government for roping in a person who was more into market economy and liberal policies.
"Gopinath is one of the world's outstanding economists, with impeccable academic credentials, a proven track record of intellectual leadership, and extensive international experience," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said.
"All this makes her exceptionally well-placed to lead our Research Department at this important juncture. I am delighted to name such a talented figure as our Chief Economist," Lagarde added.
Gopinath did her PhD in economics from Princeton University in 2001 after earning a BA from the University of Delhi and MA degrees from both the Delhi School of Economics and University of Washington.
The economist joined the University of Chicago in 2001 as an Assistant Professor before moving to Harvard in 2005. She became a tenured Professor there in 2010.
According to the IMF statement, Gopinath who is a US citizen and an Overseas Citizen of India is co-editor of the American Economic Review and co-director of the International Finance and Macroeconomics Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).
She is co-editor of the current Handbook of International Economics with Former IMF Economic Counsellor Kenneth Rogoff.
Gopinath has authored some 40 research articles on exchange rates, trade and investment, international financial crises, monetary policy, debt, and emerging market crises.